On a night where people could have mistakenly confused the quality of officiating in a regulation NBA game for some of the sketchy refereeing that plagued the 2011 NCAA Tournament in the early rounds, the New York Knicks were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 113-106 in overtime. The loss snaps a five-game winning streak for the Magic. Normally, refs have little impact in the outcome of a game because, ultimately, it comes down to the players and coaches to come away with a result one way or the other. But it’s hard to ignore shoddy calls made by the officials late in the fourth quarter, as well as overtime, that aided in Orlando’s inability to come away with a victory. More on that later. The Knicks were led by a fantastic performance from Carmelo Anthony, as he finished with 39 points (on 12-of-26 shooting from the field) and 10 rebounds. Anthony’s lack of enthusiasm to play defense is well-documented in the league, but his activity on that end of the floor was fantastic. Anthony put forth an honest effort defensively, and his teammates were quick to follow his lead. Although New York still gave up more than 100 points, the commitment to playing defense was there. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. Dwight Howard finished with 29 points and 18 rebounds. Jason Richardson stepped up, especially in crunch-time, and dropped 24 points. Hedo Turkoglu was masterful, once again, with 18 points and four assists. Brandon Bass had 14 points, while Ryan Anderson had 10 points. A big problem for Orlando was that they played short-handed. Not only was Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, and Quentin Richardson sidelined with injuries, but Chris Duhon jammed his right thumb and was unable to return after the second quarter, leaving head coach Stan Van Gundy with seven rotation players. Unfortunately for the Magic, that wasn’t the end of the bad news.
Because of a missed call by the officials, Howard picked up his 17th technical foul of the regular season, which puts him one more technical foul closer to being suspended for another game.
Now let’s set the scene.
The Knicks were desperate for a win, and it showed. Orlando and New York engaged in an exciting battle throughout the game that showcased the special talents of Anthony and Howard. Both players were nearly unstoppable, especially Anthony, given that he was able to make difficult shot after difficult shot even though defenders like Turkoglu and Earl Clark were draped all over him. For the Magic, though, Howard was able to respond on his own, showcasing his expansive offensive repertoire and punishing the Knicks on the low block. In terms of basketball, this is what the public likes to see — stars playing like stars. Howard was executing in the low post, being extensively featured in 3-out/2-in offensive sets as he made righty and lefty hooks, bankshot jumpers, layups, and dunks on a variety of moves that befuddled New York’s frontline defensively. As for Anthony, he was supreme in isolation sets, which play to his strengths and display his gifted ability to score no matter where he is on he court. And for most of the evening, everyone was treated to a well-played game that captivated the audience.
That is, until the fourth quarter began to wind down.
With the Knicks leading by six points with 2:02 left in the period, it looked like they were well on their way to a well-deserved victory. The Magic needed to make shots while at the same time forcing stops on the other end. Gilbert Arenas, someone that was awful almost the entire night, snapped out of his funk and made a jumper in a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard to begin the comeback. After Amar’e Stoudemire’s layup and Howard’s two free-throw canceled each other out, Arenas was able to connect on a three-pointer in the corner that cut Orlando’s deficit to one point.
On the ensuing possession, the Magic were able to bottle up Anthony on the perimeter with the shot clock winding down. A little flustered by the on-ball pressure applied by Turkoglu, Anthony clearly traveled. Yet not one official saw Anthony travel and he was able to pass it to Toney Douglas along the baseline. Douglas put up a floater that was goaltended by Howard but the thing is, that play should have never occurred. Orlando got the stop they needed, yet played continued and New York had a lead of three points instead of one point. That’s huge, because the Magic’s only chance at extending the game was to make a three-pointer.
Surprisingly enough, with 10.2 seconds left, the Knicks chose not to foul up three and Richardson was able to make a three-point shot to tie the game. After Anthony was unable to respond with a game-winning field goal attempt, it seemed as if justice was served and Orlando would get a fair shake in overtime.
It didn’t happen that way and New York took advantage.
The Magic and Knicks traded baskets for a few minutes in extra time. Then with 1:49 left, Howard was able to tip his own missed layup after he executed a 1/5 pick and roll with Arenas. With time running down, Orlando trailed by two points and still had a chance to win. After Douglas missed a floater in the lane, Anderson retrieved the rebound and the basketball eventually made its way to Richardson, in which he attempted a three-pointer to give the Magic the lead. Richardson’s shot was a bit long, as it clanked off the rim, and Howard jumped up for the offensive rebound. As he battled with Stoudemire, Howard suddenly was called for an offensive foul, even though there was no excessive contact to warrant the whistle. It’s a fight for a rebound that’s regularly seen on nearly every possession in NBA games, yet the referees tagged Howard with the foul — which was his sixth. Howard, admittedly frustrated with the call, threw the ball in frustration and was given a technical foul for it. Yes, Howard is to blame for the tech, but it was only triggered because the officials messed up to put it lightly. With Howard fouled out and Chauncey Billups connecting on the free-throw, Orlando was down by three points and it seemed as if they were running out of chances to keep the game going.
Yet on the next possession for New York, Anthony lost the basketball as Richardson poked it away from him. Richardson quickly passed the ball up the floor and as he tried to run with his teammates, Anthony purposely tripped him as he tried to get up. The referees didn’t see it. It wasn’t until Richardson retaliated that the officials saw what was going on, and called another offensive foul. Again, Richardson is at fault for reacting the way he did but at the very least, either Anthony should have been called for the foul or they should have let it go and allow both players to get back to the action. The physical altercation between Richardson and Anthony was more silly than serious. In any case, the worst part of it all for the Magic was that as the foul was called, Turkoglu made a three-pointer in transition that would have tied the score at 109 apiece. Instead, the play was wiped out and the Knicks were able to finally hang on for the victory.
Normally, NBA officials do the best jobs that they can. Nevertheless, the referees cost Orlando a legitimate chance at a win. Granted, missed calls happen all the time but there’s missed calls, then there’s what happened in Madison Square Garden.
Instead of celebrating New York for coming away with a win that they desperately needed to snap their losing streak, attention is detracted away because of decisions made that significantly altered the game’s result.