There are so many moving parts in any single sporting event that, realistically, officials never truly dictate the outcome of a game. There are, obviously, exceptions to this, but they are very minute and not nearly as plentiful as fans often feel.
On Monday, the Lakers had a host of opportunities to win the game against the Heat, missing a quartet of go-ahead shots in the final minutes to eventually lose the game. Not one player on the roster would say that was the reason their comeback fell short.
But the officiating was definitely a talking point postgame.
The Lakers finished the game with six available players as well as their three two-way signings after Anthony Davis left the contest injured and D’Angelo Russell was ejected in the fourth quarter. That ejection featured two of the five technicals called on the Lakers in the contest and the eight in total whistled between the two teams.
When looking at the scoreboard and seeing a one-point Miami win, it’s hard not to then look at those technicals as a difference-maker of sorts. And after the game, head coach Darvin Ham, who was whistled for his own technical late in the third quarter, spoke about the officiating on the night.
“I think just the perspective of inconsistency,” Ham said. “Even when I got hit with my technical foul, normally – I’ve been around this league a long time, man…All I want is an explanation sometimes and to not get that for the rest of the game and once I got my technical – Miami plays a physical brand of basketball, but we’re not complaining about how physical they are. We just want balance and consistency. That’s it.”
Ham wasn’t done there, then going to point out LeBron’s lack of free throws on the night. James shot just four free throws, the third game this season he’s had four or fewer attempts. Through seven games, he’s shot only 40 free throws, just the seventh time in his 21-year career he’s shot 40 or fewer free throws through his team’s opening seven games.
“I see Bron shooting four free throws and the amount of times he attacked the rim,” Ham said, “the amount of times he was slapped on the arm which I could see plain as day, for that not to be called man. He’s not flopping. He’s not flopping. I’m watching him going to the hole strong.
“We talk about playing downhill with force, playing to the rim with force, not depending on the whistle. Go try to make a play. If you get the whistle, great. If not, try to get the bucket first. But, just, I just need an explanation on certain plays that should have gone the other way or should have not been called. I don’t think I talked to the crew chief for the rest of the time after I got my technical which is kind of crazy. But it is what it is.”
There was a general air of frustration from the Lakers throughout the fourth quarter at the officiating. It didn’t stop the team from making a big comeback, including a 10-1 run in under two minutes to close the gap to 108-107 with 2:39 to go.
“I think some things we couldn’t control controlled the game a little bit in the fourth quarter. That’s unfortunate,” LeBron said postgame.
Ham received his technical on the night late in the third quarter after arguing foul calls with the officials. The Lakers shot just 14 free throws in the contest, their fewest this season since the opening night loss to the Nuggets.
Russell would receive both of his technicals in succession while arguing a kicked ball violation that he felt was missed. Crew chief James Williams ejected Russell, despite Russell not speaking to him during the timeout.
After the game, Williams was asked about Russell’s ejection.
Pool report on D’Angelo Russell's ejection from the Lakers' loss to the Heat: pic.twitter.com/SUEu5h5NDG— Khobi Price (@khobi_price) November 7, 2023
The most questionable technical of the night, though, was given to LeBron. After the game, LeBron stated that his delay of game technical, again given out by Williams, was because he threw the ball to the sideline. The video does not support the officials’ claim.
LeBron said postgame the official told him he was T'd up for delay of game for throwing the ball to the sideline.— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 7, 2023
You can catch it at the very end of this clip but, uh, he did not throw the ball. pic.twitter.com/xbcEeOIKbZ
“The explanations of what they’re telling me is not consistent with what’s actually happening on the floor,” LeBron said. “When I went for the dunk attempt against Thomas Bryant, he clearly (had) his arm straight across my face. I asked them the explanation and one of the refs said his hand was straight up in the air, two of the refs said they was blocked and didn’t see it.
“One of my transition plays, I was going in transition, got fouled, nobody saw it. I don’t know. I don’t know what to – I’m going over respectfully and telling them what’s going on in the play and I consistently go to the line three to four times a game, sometimes not even at all which is weird. Just have to keep driving, keep putting pressure on the rim and see if it turns. We got some tough break calls for sure. Not in our favor tonight.”
It would not be a surprise if Ham’s comments led to a fine for criticizing officials. LeBron’s very well might as well. Austin Reaves was very careful to avoid a fine in his postgame discussion, though.
Austin Reaves was also very, very cautious in how he discussed officiating tonight postgame because he did not want to be fined. He ended his answer on the officials with:— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 7, 2023
"I don't know. I just really like my money."
Setting aside the discussion on the technicals, LeBron is going on multiple seasons of not being fairly officiated. It’s actually a pretty good litmus test of fans who actually watch LeBron and the Lakers and those who don’t when you say LeBron James does not get the foul calls he deserves.
Since the 2018-19 season, LeBron’s free throw attempts per game have decreased sharply. It’s not as simple as saying that’s when this trend started as LeBron has also become more of a 3-point shooter later in his career, but it’s also clear when watching games that he doesn’t have the same whistle as someone like Jimmy Butler, who the Lakers saw firsthand on Monday.
The Lakers have done a good job of navigating both pointing out discrepancies in officiating while still doing as much as they can to still win games. But it’s more than fair that they plead for some consistency moving forward as they did on Monday, too.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.