NBA officials are looking at several controversial calls in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals as they sift through the fallout from the Pacers' 99-92 victory over the Heat on Tuesday night, league sources told CBSSports.com.
The most obvious missed call was a blown 24-second call against the Pacers by crew chief Joe Crawford with 8:26 left in the third quarter. Replays showed that Roy Hibbert's attempt hit the rim, which should've resulted in the shot clock resetting. The Pacers were leading 81-72 at the time, and Miami subsequently went on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 83-83.
At that point, Dwyane Wade drove for a transition layup and the basket counted on a goaltending call against Paul George. Wade was fouled by David West on the play and converted a three-point play to give Miami an 86-83 lead with 5:57 left. But league officials are looking at whether West coming down across Wade's body and hitting him in the head warrants a flagrant upgrade, sources said.
On the play that resulted in LeBron James' sixth foul, an illegal screen against Lance Stephenson with 56 seconds left, the league's preliminary review substantiates the call. James stuck his left leg outside his stance to impede Stephenson's movement around the screen.
But on an earlier foul called on James, when George drove for a layup and converted a three-point play with 5:38 remaining, James appeared on replay review to have a point in his postgame assertion that he established position on the baseline and went straight up for a legal defensive play. It was a borderline play that could have gone either way, made possible only by James' ability to close quickly on George from the opposite foul line.
It is not clear whether James will be fined for criticizing the officials after the game. He was called for four fouls in the fourth quarter and fouled out for only the second time in his playoff career.
"I believe I was straight up-and-down on Paul George's drive -- the and-one," James said.
On the offensive foul against Stephenson, James said, "I don't believe it was an offensive foul. I was going to set a screen, and I believe I was stationary. ... It was a couple of calls that I didn't feel like were fouls."
Again, those who flop should expect little empathy when calls don't go their way.
Finally, a traveling call against Wade with 26 seconds left and the Pacers leading 96-92 wasn't as obvious as it initially appeared. Wade was pivoting just inside the 3-point line when he picked up his dribble and moved both feet beyond the line. But when a player gathers his dribble, he is permitted to take two steps to jump stop. This is usually done when the player is moving forward, but the interpretation should be the same in this case, when Wade gathered his dribble and essentially jump-stopped in reverse.
Only the 24-second call was obvious enough to warrant a public acknowledgement of error, but even that doesn't fit the late-game, deciding-play template that has been established for such admissions from the league. (And, anyway, everyone already knows it was a blown call, so there's little value in a public admission.)
The referees -- in this case Joe Crawford, Rodney Mott and Derrick Stafford -- review every call and no-call in a game with the league's officiating department to evaluate their accuracy. Every flagrant foul also is reviewed for potential upgrade or downgrade, as well as notable common fouls that might warrant flagrant upgrades on review.
The NBA issued a public explanation of a correct goaltending call on the last play of Houston's 101-98 victory over Phoenix on April 9. The league last publicly acknowledged a blown call when it stated that Minnesota's Ricky Rubio should have been awarded three free throws on a 3-point attempt when fouled by Kobe Bryant in the Lakers' 120-117 victory over the Timberwolves on March 27.
The fallout from Game 4 -- and the Pacers' gritty effort to even the series at 2-2 after getting blown out in Game 3 -- sets the stage for potentially the most compelling game of this postseason in Game 5 on Thursday night in Miami. In the conference semifinals last year, the Pacers went to Miami with the series tied at two games apiece and lost two straight as the Heat advanced to the conference finals.
It also sets the stage for the focus to be on the officiating, where it doesn't belong. This series is too compelling, the players too talented and the teams too evenly matched for anything other than the competition to be in the spotlight.
Is that too much to ask?