By Ben Golliver
LeBron James sounded off about the officiating after the Heat's first defeat in nearly two months. The Associated Press reported that Miami's star forward was unhappy with the Bulls' physical treatment of him in a 101-97 loss in Chicago on Wednesday.
"I'm not sitting here crying about anything,'' James said. "I play the game at a high level, I play with a lot of aggression, I understand that some of the plays are on the borderline of a basketball play or not. But sometimes, you know, I don't know ... it's frustrating.''
James took exception to two plays in particular. In the first play, which can be viewed above, he was essentially tackled to the floor by Kirk Hinrich as he attacked the paint in transition with a little less than four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Hinrich wrapped up James' upper body using both of his arms, in a quasi-hug, and made no play on the ball.
On the second play, which can be viewed below, James was knocked to the court by Bulls forward Taj Gibson as he attacked the basket with four minutes left in in the fourth quarter. Replays showed Gibson's left arm swiping down on James' left shoulder as he attempted to raise the ball to shoot. The foul was originally deemed a flagrant foul 1 but was downgraded to a personal foul upon a video review.
The reigning MVP wasn't pleased.
"I believe, and I know, that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays,'' James said. "First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. And the last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground.
"Those are not basketball plays. And it's been happening all year. I've been able to keep my cool and try to tell [coach Erik Spoelstra], `Let's not worry about it too much,' but it is getting to me a little bit.''
His frustration boiled over seconds later, as he intentionally slammed into Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, who was setting a high screen for Hinrich. James appeared to look at Boozer and move intentionally into him with great force. James was assessed a flagrant foul 1 on the play, which can be viewed below.
James finished with a game-high 32 points (on 11-for-17 shooting), seven rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals in 40 minutes. He also attempted a game-high 11 free throws as the Bulls looked to make it a rough night on him throughout.
So does James have reason to vent? He's not totally out of line, but the referees' rulings on all three plays seemed reasonable.
Hinrich's foul was sloppy and a bit helpless, but it wasn't dirty. That it occurred on the ground rather than in the air prevented a more dangerous situation. Gibson's play involved significant contact, and it's a question whether he was going for the ball. The Bulls' forward caught a break that his blow hit James' shoulder and not his head or neck; otherwise, the flagrant foul call would have certainly held up. The fact that Gibson didn't follow through, which could have caused real damage, likely helped his case. Finally, James' flagrant was the classic, annoying retaliation call that we see on a regular basis. That foul fails James' own standard, as it was clearly not a "basketball play" but an act of aggression and disappointment, given the Heat's late-game deficit and the physical plays on the other end.
It's possible that the NBA will decide to retroactively assess a flagrant foul on either Hinrich or Gibson, or both, but these fouls don't seem to demand it. The Heat can surely expect more physical treatment between now and June. James knows that better than anyone. You can't blame him if these comments are his attempt to lay a little preemptive groundwork.
Top video via YouTube user G4NBAVideos | Middle video via YouTube user G4NBAVideos | Bottom video via YouTube user NBAHighlightsOnly