The no-call following Kobe Bryant’s foul on Ricky Rubio was met with a wide-eyed, pleading reaction from the aggrieved shooter, Rick Adelman storming to mid court demanding an explanation, and 51 percent of fans at Target Center booing their lungs out. (The other 49, wearing purple and gold, had a different-but-also-loud reaction.) Twitter was equally reactive. Bitching. Expletives. Allegations of corruption. Probably some unpleasant messages directed @kobebryant.
In truth, it probably didn’t matter, and it is only one play out of a great many that decided tonight’s game. Had a foul been called on Kobe, Ricky would have had a chance to force overtime by making three consecutive free throws. His season free-throw percentage of 77.4 tells us that there is a 46.4 percent chance that he would’ve made all of them and five more minutes would’ve been added to the clock next to a tie score. If overtime is a 50/50 proposition (probably generous, given that they have Kobe and… we don’t) then it means that a foul call would’ve given the Wolves a 23.2 percent chance of winning the game.
But make no mistake, a strong reaction following a late, blown call is common and understandable. Despite every possession and every point scored technically having equal value, late-game plays feel different. They are stamped deeper in our memories by their recentness, dramatic tension, and the leverage they suddenly possess when the previous hundred plays result in a close score. Fans of March Madness last weekend saw Iowa State’s season end after a botched charge (instead of blocking) call. The entirety of the post-game show was devoted to replaying the foot over the “restricted area” line in a freeze frame. The head of officials was interviewed via satellite. Rather than discuss 39 minutes and 59 seconds of intense basketball play, the focus narrowed in on one second of officiating.
The omission committed by official Jason Phillips in tonight’s game had aggravating factors, too. It was the Kobe. It was the Lakers. With Phillips choking on his whistle the Wolves lost their umpteenth straight to the team that used to call Minneapolis home. Memories of last year’s near miss, what with Ricky Rubio laying on the Target Center floor, knee destroyed by a Kobe collision, are not soon erased. Hell, the 2004 Western Conference Finals is not forgotten. And if any of those events were in danger of being forgotten, the rabble of Laker fans filling our home arena in any given matchup is sure to remind.
Me, at this point in this season? I was disappointed but not enraged. (Which is why, I guess, I’m trying to be level-headed, here.) I was and am disappointed that the young Wolves players were robbed of a chance to keep scratching and clawing for a possible, hard-fought win over a disliked opponent. But as far as my own fandom on this night, I was mostly happy to see a good show. Kobe was marvelous; an all-time great still doing it in his seventeenth season. Dwight Howard takes more plays off than he used to (UNDERSTATEMENT!) but there he is with 25 points 16 rebounds and 5 blocks. Pau Gasol is a uniquely-great big man in how he combines length and skill. For the Wolves, Pekovic was a beast, Cunningham was clutch and Ricky was tenacious. Budinger continues to impress as a necessary and too-long missing piece. Tonight’s game was — in a lot of ways — a very well played game. That isn’t always the case at Target Center in late March. Tonight, I’ll take it.
If the same thing happens next year, in a first-round playoff matchup with the Thunder or Clippers? I’ll probably lose my mind and have to suspend the @PDWolves account. We can only hope…