Monday, April 23, 2007

Just Shut Up

I was delighted to hear this morning that Shaquille O'Neal has been nominated for Mike & Mike's Just Shut Up Award. Shaq's sin was b*tching and moaning about the officiating during the Bulls game one win over the Heat. I actually agree that officials remain, all these years later, somewhat baffled by how to call a game in which Shaq participates. He's too big and too strong to really tell what's happening when he makes contact with a mere mortal. He is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

But come on! You're on a team with Dwayne Wade, the single most overprotected player in the league. You cannot complain about officiating. Furthermore, in this particular game, Shaq was in foul trouble because he was consistently a step late getting where he wanted to go. And his sixth and final foul was a no-brainer. Set or not, Shaq had a foot in the circle when he and Nocioni collided. Shaq was dismissive of the call as if this hard and fast rule should not have been applied to him in this particular circumstance. Deputy O'Neal should know though, nobody is above the law, not even him.

Anyway, after hearing Shaq's whining, I surfed around a little on-line to see how people in general were responding to the game. The consensus seemed to be that the Bulls were clicking on all cylinders, and that as soon as the Bulls cooled off, lost some intensity, or stopped seeing favoritism from the officials, then the Heat would stomp them. What game were these people watching?

Look, anything can happen in a short series (the NBA's two best teams each stumbled in game ones at home over the weekend), but game one between the Heat and the Bulls confirmed what I've always believed: this is one of the biggest mismatches of the first round. First off, Shaq and Wade's foul trouble was irrelevant to the outcome. The Bulls won by five. They outscored the Heat by seven while Wade was on the floor. The Heat were plus-2 when Wade sat. The Heat were minus-2 when Shaq sat, but obviously that means the Heat were minus-3 with him on the floor. A few extra minutes of playing time for Shaq and Wade and the Bulls might have won by double digits.

And the refs didn't favor the Bulls overall either. Each team shot 27 free throw attempts. Kirk Hinrich was in every bit as much foul trouble as Wade or Shaq. He played fewer than 20 minutes because of fouls. Then there is the case of Luol Deng. Deng took 22 shot attempts. They were his usual assortment of inside and medium range shots. About 40% of Deng's attempts this year were going to the hoop. But Deng shot only five free throw attempts to go with 22 shots from the floor. Compare this to Wade, who takes a slightly lower percentage of his shots going to the basket (38%), but who attempted 7 free throws despite attempting only 16 shots from the floor. Of course, this disparity just reflects the way things always are. Wade draws fouls on more than 19% of his shot attempts. Deng draws fouls on 11% of his shot attempts. This despite the fact that Deng is, in fact, more aggressive about going to the basket than Wade. Believe me, by the time the series is over, it won't be the Heat who have a legitimate complaint about the officiating.

As for the contention that the Bulls did everything right while the Heat struggled, and yet the Bulls only won by five: well, that simply has no connection to reality. For example, the Heat shot 7 for 20 from three point range, or 35%. That's not especially good, but it's actually better than the 34% the Heat shot in the regular season. Meanwhile the Bulls shot 17% (3 of 17) from beyond the arc. That's dreadful, which is especially surprising because the Bulls were second in the NBA in three point shooting this year at 39%. None of the Bulls' advantages should surprise anyone either. The Bulls won the battle on the boards with ease, but the Bulls were one of the better rebounding teams in the NBA this year, while the Heat were out-rebounded on the season. Turnovers were even, which was not surprising because each team had a similar turnover rate in the regular season. The Bulls had more assists, again not surprising because the Bulls had a much better assist rate during the regular season. See, everything about this game went as one would have expected, except the Bulls were ice cold from beyond the arc.

And despite the Bulls' uncharacteristically terrible shooting, they won the game and looked to be in control most of the way. Could the Bulls lose this series? Of course. But its hard not to feel pretty good about things right now. So, Shaq, I take the "Just Shut Up" thing back. Complain all you want about the officiating. But remember this if the Bulls send you home earlier than expected for summer break, the refs didn't beat you, a better team did.


Blogger Jake said...

Absolutely spot on. You just took all of my feelings about that game and crammed 'em into a few paragraphs -- well done.

What's up with all these off days? I want Game 2 tonight!

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Jeeves said...

I loved Riles mumbling about Shaq's shoe size after the game. I was waiting for him to just stop ask if it was live and then ask if he could start over because he sounded like a dunce.

Don't forget the random emergence of Antoine Walker; there's no way he reproduces those numbers anytime soon, let alone in the playoffs.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

yeah, walker's performance was certainly an anomaly. if he had hit threes like he did all year, and the bulls did likewise, the game would have been a 15+ point blowout.

8:53 PM  

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