San Antonio Spurs: A short history of head scratching officiating

AUBURN HILLS, UNITED STATES: Tim Duncan (R) of the San Antonio Spurs tries to talk with official Joey Crawford (C) as head coach Gregg Popovich (L) listens during their game against the Detroit Pistons. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
AUBURN HILLS, UNITED STATES: Tim Duncan (R) of the San Antonio Spurs tries to talk with official Joey Crawford (C) as head coach Gregg Popovich (L) listens during their game against the Detroit Pistons. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images) /

The San Antonio Spurs have been subjected to questionable officiating calls before, so in honor of the chaos around the reversed call in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, let’s look back on a few from the Silver and Black.

While the San Antonio Spurs’ season ended in April, the NBA has continued into June, with the 2018 NBA Finals underway. Thursday night’s Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers featured 51 points from LeBron James, J.R. Smith not realizing how much time remained on the clock, and Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green exchanging dinner plans.

Before any of this happened, though, the focus went toward the officiating, as in the final two minutes the referees reversed a call that saw James take a charge and give the Cavaliers the ball to a blocking foul and two free throws for the Warriors. This tied the game at 104. The referees determined that while James stood outside the restricted area, his feet were not set.

Not familiar with this rule? Despite how rarely this situation occurs, the NBA actually put this rule in place before the 2013-14 season. Before LeBron returned to Cleveland, the Warriors dynasty began, when Kevin Durant was still on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and months before the Spurs won the 2014 title.

When reviewing a block/charge play to determine whether the defender was inside or outside the restricted area, officials will now be permitted to reverse a charge call, or uphold a blocking call, when the defender was outside the restricted area but was not set when the offensive player began his upward shooting motion.

Bizarre or not, this rule exists and Game 1’s final moments can’t be reversed.

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That brings us to the Spurs who had nothing to do with this. However, there’s still a short history of some head scratching officiating that went against them.

Joey Crawford ejects Tim Duncan for laughing

The easiest one to start with, and perhaps one of the most unusual officiating calls in recent memory, happened to Tim Duncan, when referee Joey Crawford ejected him from a game between the San Antonio Spurs and  Dallas Mavericks.

  • Duncan was called for an offensive foul as he dribbled and drove to the hoop and gave a blank stare at the referee (it was not Crawford). Gregg Popovich looked as confused as anyone else. (Frankly, it did not appear that Duncan did anything to draw the foul, aside from a minor extension of his left arm, if anything.)
  • At the 2:20 mark of the third quarter, when Duncan was on the bench, Crawford blew his whistle and signaled a technical foul against the Big Fundamental, who had that same confused look from the offensive foul except amplified by 10.
  • ESPN’s Mike Breen said “Duncan said something to Crawford.”
  • Duncan continued to laugh and gave one of the most sarcastic claps you will ever see (maybe).
  • Just over one minute later at the 1:04 mark, Crawford called a blocking foul on Fabricio Oberto, who attempted to get in Josh Howard’s way. The camera cut to Duncan laughing hysterically.
  • Crawford blew his whistle, pointed at Duncan, gave a second technical and tossed him from the game. Duncan gave his perplexed face again but amplified by 50 this time.
  • Ejected players are usually escorted away by security guards, but it seemed hilarious, even for someone of Duncan’s stature, to be removed by them for … laughing?
  • ESPN’s Michelle Tafoya spoke to Duncan on his way out, and he claimed to have said nothing. That seems right.

Then-NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Crawford indefinitely for “improper conduct” and “inappropriate comments made to Duncan during the game.” Duncan claimed that Crawford asked him, “Do you want to fight?”

Duncan also received a fine for verbal abuse of an official. Crawford said Duncan said an expletive towards him.

Kawhi Leonard fouled Russell Westbrook, right?

For a more recent call, let’s go back to the 2016 NBA playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder were tied 2-2 in the second round, with an important Game 5 in San Antonio to put the series in someone’s favor.

  • The Thunder led 92-91 with 9.3 seconds left.
  • Dion Waiters inbounded the ball to Russell Westbrook, and everyone on the planet expected someone to foul him. Even if both free throws were hit the Spurs would be down by one possession.
  • Kawhi Leonard (it feels like an eternity since we have spoken about normal basketball things with him) reached at and hit Westbrook within one second of the running game clock. No foul call, though.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge, who was against Steven Adams in the post, seemed to not expect the play to continue, tried to get a body on Westbrook but ended up on the wrong side of an and-one. This put the Thunder up 95-91 and gave them the 3-2 series lead.

In Game 6, Oklahoma City put the Silver and Black away to advance to the Western Conference Finals, blow a 3-1 series lead to the Golden State Warriors and watch Kevin Durant leave two months later.

Next: 2018 NBA Mock Draft: After the lottery

So not as egregious as the Joey Crawford call, but more impactful for the time of the season that it happened in. With Thursday’s Game 1, though, it brought questionable playoff officiating into the spotlight and maybe into a bigger one if J.R. Smith did not forget the score.