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The Heat Have Bigger Problems Than The Refs

Miami's Duncan Robinson argues with referee Eric Davis during Game 1 of the NBA Finals
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Part of the chimerical force of Heat Culture (which when it doesn't refer to the basketball team is most likely related to unlicensed dermatology) is the idea that Miami is always in control of its own fate. Only the Heat can beat the Heat.

Thursday, that notion was challenged by the fact that Miami shot fewer free throws in Game 1 of the NBA Finals than any team has ever attempted in all the other 4,350 playoff games in history. Two. Yes, two. Haywood Highsmith, in case you're out of trivia questions 30 years from now, barely a minute into the second quarter.

Under normal circumstances, the tinfoil hat brigade, which grows in size and vehemence during the NBA playoffs, would have shrieked from the bowels of hell to the Pinwheel Galaxy about the omnipresent fix being in; as we know from our rage-fueled hallucinations, the amorphous "fix" happens in every game, and NBA supervisor of officials Monty McCutchen runs the most powerful and enticing gambling syndicate in history. I mean, he looks like a slightly more charmingly owlish version of Arnold Rothstein, down to the semi-precious bowtie, so why not run with that?

Indeed, of all the things that make basketball captivating entertainment, dishonest officials deliberately screwing your team rank third, one spot below fans changing their mind on who the best player in the game is based on the last 15 minutes they saw, two spots above prop bets involving the backup center, and 17 spots above the actual games. The question of why you would care about a sport in which everything you see is dishonest never occurs to you, which is why on this subject we cannot be of any help. If you need action that badly, go bet snooker.

Now we're not trying to tell you that NBA officials are sensational. They're not, and not just because of burner phones addressing the national scandal of whether Kevin Scott is better than Kevin Cutler, or whether Zach Zarba is the best double-Z in sports since Zinedine Zidane. The game is changing, the league is changing, and officiating has remained maddeningly static.

But we're wandering into the woods here when the story is the Heat, who in their Game 1 smothering failed to go to the basket consistently and in its wake failed to blame the officiating crew of Mark Davis, David Guthrie and Ed Malloy for those two free throws. They could have without anyone much noticing, but the closest anyone got was Bam Adebayo's arch, “If I do say something, will you take the fine?”

"I just feel like we can’t even get into that," Adebayo added. "We can’t let them dictate the game. I just feel like we took a lot of jump shots, and we missed a lot of them instead of getting to the basket.” 

Jimmy Butler, the Heat's designated hyper-Buddha, was even more dismissive of the line of questioning, saying, "I’ve got to put pressure on the rim. Me with no free throws, that was all on myself, nobody else, so we’ll definitely correct that the next game, but only I can do that.”

Seems like an opportunity blown for the alibi brigade. But the Heat likewise didn't say anything about Scott Foster, Tony Brothers and John Goble after Game 7 of the Boston series three days earlier, when they only attempted six free throws (the eighth-fewest in playoff history). Maybe they felt they didn't need to, because they won by 19.

Truth is, the Heat have bigger problems than free throw opportunities, and to the extent that they can address that one, the onus won't be on the Fosters and Zarbas and Eric Lewis Telecom but on Miami's willingness to attack the Nuggets where they lived last night. That might be a fruitless task given what the Nuggets have—namely all of the Nikola Jokic they can eat in one serving, let alone four—but if the Heat need free throws to validate themselves in this series, they're probably hosed anyway. They're just hosed slightly less.

Credit to the Heat, though, for not fetishizing one line in a box score that didn't really explain how the Nuggets owned Game 1, and for not holding three normal-sized folks with TJ Maxx-sales-bin shirts responsible for a job that only the Heat themselves can do. Again, not because the officiating belonged in the Louvre, but because complaining about it when you have to rally to lose by 11 seems, well, not very Heat-Cultural. It just seems like whining.

But check back with us Sunday night. Foster might be back then. Everyone has agreed in an unpublished plebiscite that he's evil; somehow, he manages to screw every team every time. Which if you think about it makes him the very ideal of consistency.

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