INDIANAPOLIS -- Lo and behold, everyone wants the referees to be perfect now. In playoff games that are so close, so poised to turn on one play, everyone demands perfection when it matters most.
LeBron James wanted the benefit of the doubt on his sixth personal foul when he was called for an illegal screen against Lance Stephenson with 56 seconds left in a four-point game. He wanted it when he was called for a reach-in on Hibbert earlier in the fourth quarter. He wanted the officials to appreciate that he had gone straight up to contest Paul George's driving layup with 5:38 left -- his fourth foul.
Guess what, everybody on both sides? If you're so concerned about the officials getting it right when it matters, why are you spending so much time trying to trick them into getting it wrong?
Why are you doing this?
In this otherwise compelling and wonderful Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Pacers -- which goes back to Miami tied at 2 after the Pacers' 99-92 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday night -- we've got ourselves a theme.
Several, actually, but they're all related.
Other than Miami's dominance in Game 3, the games have been nail-bitingly close. The outcome can swing on a single possession, a single free throw or a missed boxout.
It can swing on a whistle, too. So before anyone on either side wants to complain about calls not going their way, about the referees not giving them the benefit of the doubt, do yourselves a favor.
Stop trying to trick them.
You can't have it both ways.
"I don't believe it was an offensive foul," James said of his moving screen against Stephenson, on which he was trying to free Dwyane Wade for a clean look with Indiana leading 96-92. "I was going to set a screen, and I felt like I was stationary. And D-Wade rejected the pick-and-roll. Lance actually ran into me."
I have mixed feelings about the call because, on one hand, James clearly stuck his left leg out to make sure he picked off Stephenson. That's an illegal screen, plain as day. On the other hand, Wade chose to go in the other direction -- away from the screen -- so no advantage was gained. In that regard, it's a play-on situation.
But these are the same officials who've spent six weeks in this postseason trying to avoid getting duped by all manner of fake and exaggerated contact -- especially in this series, and especially in this game. You're expecting them to look the other way on an illegal screen because no advantage was gained? That's a lot to ask.
It's especially a lot to ask when coming from the league's best player, the transcendent basketball force of our time, when only 30 hours earlier he had said that flopping was "not even a bad thing," and added, "Any way you can get the advantage over an opponent to help your team win, then so be it."
What comes around goes around, is the way I look at it.
"I believe I was straight up-and-down on Paul George's drive -- the and-one," James said. "Hibbert, they reversed a call on Hibbert, called a foul on me on that one. And at the end of the third, they called a push off [against] David West.
"It was a couple of calls that I didn't feel like were fouls, personal fouls on me," James said. "That's how the game goes sometimes."
Let me make myself clear: This isn't just about James. His greatness is unquestioned, his talent otherworldly. It's also about West, who at one point coordinated with James in a game of synchronized flopping when both players ran into each other and flailed to the floor.
It's also about Stephenson, one of the heroes of the game for Indiana with that glorious 3-pointer from the corner at the third-quarter buzzer on a cross-court inbound pass from George Hill, not to mention some gritty defense on James. But in the first quarter, when Stephenson got tangled up with Ray Allen, he cocked his head back violently while pretending that Allen had elbowed him in the face -- which, of course, he had not.
So please, if you're devoting so much time and effort to duping the officials into getting calls wrong, don't whine when you've suddenly decided to play fair and they make a mistake.
"Last time LeBron fouled out of a playoff game was last year in Boston," Erik Spoelstra said. "So it doesn't happen very often."
That's true, by the way. It's only the second time that James has fouled out of a playoff game, and he managed to do it this time with four fouls in the fourth quarter.
"Dwyane was in foul trouble the whole game," Spoelstra said. "[Chris Bosh] was in foul trouble. You have to overcome a lot in the playoffs."
I know everybody hates the referees and, to be honest, this game was not a career highlight for Crawford, Rodney Mott and Derrick Stafford. But in these flop-tastic NBA playoff games, the officials have a lot to overcome, too. They have to overcome 47 minutes of players trying to trick them into getting calls wrong and then are expected to be perfect when it matters.
"We've just got to play ball," Stephenson said. "Don't worry about calls. Don't worry about fouls. Just attack and make buckets."
Can everyone involved listen to this unexpected wisdom from Lance Stephenson -- including Lance Stephenson -- and apply it for the rest of this series? Can all the floppers give us our game back?
We've had three games decided by a combined 12 points and two tactical masterpieces -- one by Miami in moving James into the post to dominate Game 3, and the response from Indiana in closing off his success down low in Game 4. On Tuesday night, we had two supporting players, Stephenson and Mario Chalmers -- each with 20 points -- playing crucial roles.
We had Hibbert putting up another brilliant performance with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting with 12 rebounds -- and showing up in the interview room, God bless him, wearing a yellow T-shirt instead of some fashion experiment.
We had Allen and Stephenson hitting clock-beating 3-pointers, and James dueling with his understudy, George.
But we had something else that's detracting from the enjoyment of it all -- players trying to trick the referees and thousands of people chanting about flopping. Indiana fans not only know their basketball, but apparently they know how to use the Internet, too.
"He's a flop-per," the crowd chanted to James and Wade throughout the game.
Is this what we want? Doesn't the game deserve better?
It does. It's a best-of-3 series now between two teams that are very good at basketball and shouldn't need the fake stuff. Bad calls happen. Bad calls caused by players tricking the refs into making bad calls shouldn't happen.
And neither should whining when it all backfires. And that goes for everybody.