A short time after they fell to the Golden State Warriors 100-104 in the opening game of the Western conference semifinals, the Houston Rockets fed a story to Sam Amick, who dutifully penned a breathless tribute to the “data-driven case” that the referees cost Houston the game. “In all,” the article spells out, “sources say, they were harmed to the tune of 93 points.”
Only one problem: their data is ok, but their analysis sucks; so this comes off a whole lot like institutionalized whining.
You see, it wasn’t Harden going 4-16 from behind the arc; nor the Rockets’ paltry 30% shooting from deep as a team that were to blame. Just like when they missed 27 straight three pointers last playoffs, even if you had this 100% correct, you can’t ignore everything else and assign a fake point value for stolen points while gesturing angrily at the refs.
“As we told the Rockets, we do not agree with their methodology,” Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, told ESPN on Monday. While a data driven analysis is an excellent way to analyze referee impacts, the contention that what the Rockets’ internal team produced was in any way an objective, factual review of these questionable call is absurd.
Even further, the utter gall required for Harden and the Rockets to take their ref-baiting gameplan public smacks of deceit and lack of self awareness.
Call the game how it’s supposed to be called and I’ll live with the results pic.twitter.com/t7swbvwd4z— ً (@DubsDynasty) April 29, 2019
Like an actor delivering a soliloquy and then turning around and claiming they won a debate, this Rockets franchise has neither the objectivity, nor standing to make these claims - much less have those claims rebroadcast without facing some amount of ridicule.
It’s not that some of these cited plays were incorrectly analyzed, it’s that the analysis itself is too biased and incomplete to serve as any sort of objective measure. The team wrote a memo, never sent it, and then released it to the media as an “anonymous team source.”
And as for The Athletic publishing the propaganda without any sort of editorial control over fact checking? I think it’s wildly irresponsible. Without getting into politics, this blind parroting of a pre-packaged talking point based on faulty assumptions is a huge problem.
The Rockets maybe aren’t the best messenger.
Here’s the biggest gripe with something like this coming from the Rockets. This is a team whose two best players are known for their “gamesmanship.”
“I just want a fair chance, call the game how it’s supposed to be called, and that’s it...” pic.twitter.com/cBsHnLKDLY— TheWarriorsTalk (@TheWarriorsTalk) April 29, 2019
Objectively, yes, the refs missed some calls (as they do every game). But how far it went, and to what extent can you pin the final score on those calls is an inherently subjective discussion. Like the play above, even if there was contact, it’s not necessarily a foul. By playing a game to fool the refs, you are denigrating the greatness of Harden’s actual basketball skills. And it feeds into the victim complex. From players and staff down to fans, now the Rockets narrative is insanely focused on being bitter about a fixed game that wasn’t really fixed.
It’s nothing new to the Golden State Warriors, or their fans. Most notably, there was LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers post game gripes that led the NBA to retroactively assess a flagrant foul on Draymond Green - not a technical, or common foul (as assessed during the game), but a flagrant. This directly resulted in a one-game suspension in a pivotal game 5. But no one cared. It’s not an asterisk or anything, just another bump in the road... right?
“Precisely innacurate” and the difficulty of refereeing NBA games
Here’s is the section that made me guffaw - ok, I just sort of breathed harder through my nose, but still, check out this wild speculation cleverly disguised as crackpot science - again from the Sam Amick article:
By the Rockets’ internal count from their video crew, there were eight attempted 3-pointers that should have been fouls in Game 1 – good for 24 free throw attempts that would’ve certainly decided the game.
Wow. Precisely 24 points? And it would have “certainly” decided the game?
At my day job, we have a term to describe people/systems that overrate the accuracy of their inputs. The term “precisely inaccurate” is used to describe someone using meter data, for example, but listing out the information to more significant decimals than were measured. For example, listing out a consumption of 21.0003 gallons, even though the meter only measures in whole numbers... or pretending to know the outcome of a game based on presumed outcomes of foul calls.
Looking at some of the plays, it’s abundantly clear that not every call was correct. Equally apparent is that the Rockets (Harden and Chris Paul in particular) were going well out of their way to force the issue. As seen here, even without a defender in the picture, there’s no logical way for Harden to actually land normally here.
Watch where James Harden releases the shot from and watch where Draymond Green makes the contact. Harden kicked his legs wayyyyy out. That’s a good non-call pic.twitter.com/vaOWHCflCk— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) April 28, 2019
As transcribed by ESPN, Warriors coach Steve Kerr elucidates how extremely difficult these split second decisions can be. More than that, there’s some honest question about how much space a person needs. Like manspreading on the subway, players like Harden (and yes even Steph Curry) are widening their stance. It protects the players a bit, but also significantly clouds the question of what constitutes a foul:
“There’s all kind of gray area. And, in the modern game, a lot of players have gotten really good at deception, creating contact. I don’t remember people falling down on 3-point shots all the time when I played. It was a different rule.
Would the Rockets have benefited from some of those calls? Absolutely. But what about the missed calls against Golden State? I guess we’ll need Joe Lacob to author his own “study” to determine how that would have gone.