The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t getting along with NBA officials this season. Los Angeles ranks third in the league in restricted area field goal attempts, but just 19th in clutch free-throw attempts per minute. For whatever reason, the offense that scores more in the paint than any other can’t seem to get calls at the end of games. And against the Celtics Saturday night in Boston, the situation hit a new low.
Up three with four seconds to go, Jaylen Brown made a layup that cut the Lakers’ lead to one. OK, no problem. That still left the Lakers with the ball and the lead … right? Wrong. Seemingly out of nowhere, Patrick Beverley was called for one of the latest fouls you’ll ever see.
Take a look:
Brown made the free throw. The Lakers called timeout. They drew up a play for James to attack the rim. He gets into the paint and puts up a layup. Jayson Tatum clearly whacks him on the arm. Once again, no whistle. And just like their Jan. 12 double overtime loss to the Mavericks — the game in which Troy Brown Jr. was seemingly fouled on a game-winning 3-point attempt, but did not get a whistle — once again, the Lakers are defeated because of a bad missed call.
After the game, crew chief Eric Lewis admitted to the pool reporter that a mistake had been made on the final possession. “There was contact,” he said. “At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.” The Last Two Minute report published Sunday afternoon also confirmed the missed foul call, saying “Tatum initiates contact with James’ arm, affecting his shot attempt at the rim.” Either way, neither James nor Beverley handled the poor calls particularly well. James melted down in a way that was almost reminiscent of his infamous reaction to J.R. Smith forgetting the score at the end of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
Beverley was more proactive. Between the fourth quarter and overtime, he somehow got his hands on a camera and perhaps was trying to show it to Lewis. He was immediately called for a technical foul for the effort, and Tatum hit the free throw before overtime began.
The Lakers were, predictably, livid after the game. “The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing,” coach Darvin Ham said. Anthony Davis wasn’t even that diplomatic. “It’s bullshit,” Davis said. “It’s unacceptable. … We got cheated tonight.” James, himself, was bewildered.
“I don’t get it,” James said. “I’m attacking the paint just as much as any of the other guys in this league that are shooting double-digit free throws per night. I don’t get it. I don’t understand.”
The Lakers are now 23-27 and sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference. The 28-24 Los Angeles Clippers currently hold the No. 4 seed, but are only four games ahead of them in the standings. Every win and loss in the standings is critical in such a crowded playoff race. If this parity persists, a call the NBA immediately admitted to getting wrong might be the difference between the Lakers making the playoffs, the play-in or missing the postseason entirely. It’s not hard to see why they are so upset. From their perspective, a pattern of poor officiating has followed them throughout the season, and if the Celtics game was any indication, they might be right.