Two essential truths about basketball:
a.) In a game decided by one point, the arbiter is luck--whatever side you're on.
b.) If the whistle blows, it's a foul.
Excellent coaches are teachers of the game and fanatical 'purists.' I can't envision another path to embrace. I often told me players:" Don't look for officials to bail you out. Make shots. Make plays. that, my friends, is the concommitant equalizer. Every JUCO coach in Texas understand when you play on the road, you're down 15 points at tip-off. When I coached high school and ventured into area codes 940 or 903 (adjacent to the Dallas/Fort Worth area) to play road games, I accepted that the home team would be in the 'bonus' by the 6:55 mark of the second quarter. How do you overcome this: Make Shots.
I've said: "If you 'swat at an airbone shooter in an attempt to block the shot, consider this a foul.' There are some behaviors one mustn't allow to become habits. Sooner or later, you 'get got.' Basketball is a game of habits.
Such is the case with the ending of Game Four of the Lakers/Spurs series. For those who missed, I'll recap the final possession: The Spurs have a sideline 'throw-in' with 2.1 seconds remaining. Robert Horry is the inbounder. The play develops arouind three options-- but the primary is for Manu Ginobli. Horry cannot make the pass to Ginobli ecause of Bryant's defense. The pass comes to Brent Barry who is at the top of the three point arc. Derek Fisher, who is playing 'ball denial' on Michael Finley, rotates to Barry. As Barry makes the catch, he presents a shot fake and Fisher leaves his feet making contact with Barry. Barry absorbs the contact, takes one dribble to his right and launches a shot from roughly 28 feet. The shot missed and the game is over.
Because of Fisher's contact before the shot, many conclude a foul should've been called. Reflecting on the 'game with a game' basketball paradigm, one can see a different conclusion. This wasn't a game where incidental floor contact was going to rate a whistle. In the last four minutes, there were five possessions (three for Los Angeles, two for San Antonio) where a foul could have been called.
This game was going to be decided by players, not officials. And, given that officiating had already played a 'not-so-subtle' role in the game (29 shot attempts by Bryant and free throw attempts; no rest of the shot clock when Fisher's shot clearly grazed the rim) the non-call on the Barry play was proper-- and consisten with the established paradigm of that game.
Most discussions around last second wins and losses are analgous to the: "Was there another shoter on the grassy knoll?" This banter shrouds the central, essential question: "Why was the game lost?" If you're a Spurs fans, here's the reality: The Lakes netted 13 offensive rebounds, directly producing 20 first half points. The Spurs were a +7 in free throw attempts and +10 in made free throws. As the great Hubie Brown reminds us, in the Association, the team with the most free throw attempts wins with much more regularity.
At no level of basketball are games lost on a final possession. Often the most salient and influential play in a 'one-point' loss occurs at an earlier time (I thought the the foul on Vujacic's three-point shot from the corner --which became a four-point play-- ws the most detrimental event to the Spurs. My confusion about San Antonio Spurs basketball is the 'which came first, the chicken or the egg question? connundrum. Do the Spurs defend because they know they can't score. Or, are they unable to score because they expend their energy on defense.
I don't know which represents the truth. I do know that extended stretches without scoring --which is the Spurs modus operandi during the middle of quarters-- makes it difficult to prevail. The Spurs don't consistently score. That's the problem-- it has nothing to do with a whistle.