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The difference between regular and postseason basketball in the NBA has long been the subject of analysis.
Intensity ratchets up. Facing the same team over and over necessitates bigger adjustments. The schedule can feel a bit more condensed at times.
With time winding down in the first half of Game 2 of the Finals, another difference came into focus: officiating.
Golden State Warriors point-forward Draymond Green, who sometimes seems willing to be called for technicals, picked one up in the first quarter after tangling with Grant Williams.
Then, he went a little further in the second, pushing Jaylen Brown following an overzealous closeout. Green also appeared to pull Brown’s shorts down, though it’s unclear if he had done so intentionally.
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Should Draymond have been ejected here? pic.twitter.com/gEiIij9dnD
Officials refrained from giving Draymond a second tech, which sparked a debate that ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy spurred on.
“I would hate to see someone ejected right now,” Van Gundy said on the broadcast, “But the normal call would be a double-T.”
A double-technical, of course, would’ve resulted in an ejection for Draymond. It would’ve pushed his total for the playoffs to five, which is two away from an automatic one-game suspension but still well shy of the legendary exploits of Rasheed Wallace.
All this begs the question, though: Should the rules be different based on circumstance?
Van Gundy’s right. That interaction typically results in a technical foul. Granting Draymond extra leeway seems, at the very least, odd (especially since he seems like he’s already among the league leaders in leeway given).
The debate hit a fever pitch after ESPN cut to former referee and current analyst Steve Javie, who more or less co-signed Van Gundy’s take.
The reaction to that was, well…
Talk to any coach at just about any level of basketball about officiating, and most will agree: They want consistency. The situational application of the rules doesn’t look good.
Wouldn’t it be reasonable for a fan to wonder if this extends beyond a second technical for a star in a Finals game? When else does selective enforcement happen? Are games called differently in the clutch?
Even if the honest answers to questions like those and others exonerate the league, you probably don’t want people asking them. Situations like Sunday’s inspire those questions.
Of course, Draymond has been on the other end of this debate.
In 2016, he infamously took exception to (and a swipe at) LeBron James for stepping over him in Game 4 of the Finals.
Days laterthe league announced that Draymond would be suspended for Game 5. The Cleveland Cavaliers won that one and the next two, completing a 3-1 comeback that still inspires the occasional meme.
Following the letter of the law in that instance may have altered the course of NBA history.
Golden State was plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions with Draymond on the floor in that series. It was minus-12.6 when he was off.
Had Green played Game 5, Cleveland pulling off the miracle seems unlikely at best. Does Kevin Durant go to the Warriors that summer? Do the Cavs win in 2017 and 2018? Does that keep LeBron in Cleveland a little longer?
Sunday’s non-tech may not have the same historical implications. The Warriors scoring avalanche in the third quarter of Sunday’s 107-88 win may have happened anyway. Draymond was only plus-seven in a 19-point win.
If the argument for selective enforcement is avoiding a “sliding doors” moment like 2016, Sunday wasn’t a great example for that argument.
And it’s probably not a great precedent to set (and have been admitted by multiple people during the league’s biggest broadcasts).
For credibility’s sake alone, the league probably needs to take a firmer stance in moments like this, even with stars known for pushing the line, like Draymond, Chris Paul and Patrick Beverley.
Once they see that the line isn’t moving, they’ll back off. And we won’t have to keep having this debate.