Originally posted on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 5/7/12

On Sunday night, the Denver Nuggets and LA Lakers took part in a spirited battle.  Rasheed Wallace would probably tell you “both teams played hard,” and Al Harrington’s face mask was an indication of how physical the last couple games of the series have been.  The tough defense played by each team held the other well under 100 points (92-88 was your final), and that’s despite the fact that Denver wrapped up the regular season ranked second in points per game and 28th in points allowed.

A variety of factors contributed to the low final score.  Both teams shot poorly from the free-throw line as well as three-point land, but the aspect of this particular game that stood out to me was the lack of personal (and technical) foul calls.  Of the 30 playoff games that have been played thus far, only one has finished with fewer personal fouls than last night’s Lakers/Nuggets game.  That was a 109-92 blowout between the Sixers and the Bulls in which the teams were whistled for a combined 29 infractions.  The Lakers and Nuggets were called for 32.

If you take a look at the five playoff games where the fewest fouls have been called, you’ll find three in which the score wasn’t close.  In a game where 34 fouls were called, the Spurs beat the Jazz 114-83.  In another contest that featured just 35 fouls, the Celtics beat the Hawks 97-74.  I happened to watch that one in its entirety and I can tell you that the fourth quarter was essentially running time.

Nuggets/Lakers was nothing like that.  It came down to the final seconds, during which Danilo Gallinari twice attempted to draw offensive fouls by flopping like a fish.  Thankfully, whistles were swallowed.  Gallo and the Nuggets were burned by a pair of Laker three-pointers.

Throughout the game I felt that the officiating was very steady.  If it wasn’t a blatant foul, it wasn’t called.  I can recall a jump ball call where JaVale McGee had essentially locked Andrew Bynum into some sort of wrestling hold.  It was a foul… but it was also a foul when Arron Afflalo had his shot blocked later on in the quarter.  He was hit on the wrist as he attempted a layup, but the officials let it go.  Consistency–I can’t say it’s all we ask for, but it’s certainly most important.

The officials had another shining moment when Kenneth Faried, out of excitement, slammed the ball on the floor from the seat of his pants.  He’d just earned a call as he battled for a rebound, and he was all gassed up about it.  A referee was there, on the baseline, looking on as Faried executed a spike fit for an NFL end zone… but he allowed the player to experience a brief moment of intense emotion free of punishment.  A human allowed to be human?  It was extremely refreshing.

When we feel that officials have done a poor job, we almost always point it out.  When they do a good job, it’s almost always overlooked.  To be overlooked is probably the ultimate compliment for a referee, but I think Bill Kennedy, David Jones, and Greg Willard deserve a great deal of credit for the job they did last night.  They allowed the game to be physical without turning it into a rugby match.  They were consistent with their calls at both ends of the floor.  They allowed players to be emotional as long as they didn’t cross the line (and the line was never crossed, as evidenced by the total of zero technical fouls).

This battle was precisely what we hope for when we tune in for an NBA playoff game.  Ronnie Nunn, the NBA’s director of officials, ought to show it to his entire staff.  Tell ‘em that it’s precisely what they should be aiming for.

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