Column: Refs won't bite as Hoiberg tries 'palming' off blame

We pause in a postseason packed with great press-conference performances to award a gold star to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg for his ''get-off-my-lawn'' rant against Celtics' guard Isaiah Thomas.

For starters, it's so-o-o-o last century.

Granted, there's still a rule on the books barring players from ''palming'' or ''carrying'' the basketball while dribbling. But the last time a coach raised the issue and expected referees to actually start calling it, the ball was still held together with laces.

Fast-forward to Sunday, when Hoiberg went off on Thomas after Chicago dropped Game 4. The 104-95 loss effectively erased the Bulls' 2-0 head-start in the series and signaled even more trouble ahead.

''Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player. ... He had a hell of a game tonight,'' Hoiberg began.

''But when you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession,'' he added a moment later, ''he is impossible to guard. ... When you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down. It's impossible to guard him in those situations.''

Sure enough, Thomas sliced and diced the Bulls again Wednesday night in Game 5 in Boston, prompting a local reporter to troll Hoiberg with the question, ''Did you see Isaiah carry the ball at all this game?''

''No,'' Hoiberg replied, briskly exiting the press conference stage right.

The only thing missing was a mic drop.

One measure of how little the league took notice is that Hoiberg wasn't fined - unlike Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, whose ''Take that for data!'' tirade about the officiating after Game 2 drew a cool $30,000 slap.

The reason?

''Palming'' just isn't an NBA thing anymore.

There have been cries for fouls over the years, nearly every time ball-handling wizards as long ago as Bob Cousy and as recently as Chris Paul come up with new ways the bounce a ball while shedding defenders.

The last real outcry centered on Allen Iverson. Though AI stood barely 6 feet, he dribbled the ball up by his eyes and developed a ''killer crossover'' dribble that broke defenders' ankles and led to renewed calls for a stricter interpretation of the rulebook.

(In what may be the most interesting development thus far, Iverson recently got into a public spat with Tim Hardaway Sr., who claimed to be the inventor of the crossover and, like Hoiberg, accused Iverson of palming the ball. With typical flair, Iverson ended the back-and-forth with this: ''I carried my crossover all the way into the Hall of Fame. So, there you go.'')

In his book, ''Personal Fouls,'' disgraced former NBA ref Tim Donaghy described how officials got together before a 2007 game in Denver and decided to take turns calling ''palming'' on Iverson. But they did it less out of a sense of obligation, Donaghy wrote, than to get even with Iverson for his tirade about then-fellow ref Steve Javie.

But like all of the previous howls about ''palming,'' that one died out fast. Last season, there were 150 such calls in 1,230 regular-season games - or roughly one every eighth game.

In light of that, Hoiberg would better serve his team by focusing on things he can control. He's gone .500 over two seasons in Chicago with an assortment of mix-and-match lineups, and the broken thumb that sidelined starting point guard Rajon Rondo has severely limited his options.

Still, Hoiberg's time would be better spent making sure star Jimmy Butler doesn't disappear when the Bulls' season is on the line - Butler was 0-for-the-4th-quarter in Game 5 - and finding a way to keep 35-year-old Dwyane Wade rested enough to play like he was still 25.

And while he's at it, Hoiberg could learn the difference between motivating grown men and college kids. Chicago's locker room has resembled a free-for-all during much of his tenure, marked by finger-pointing and public spats over playing time.

For all that, until the injury to Rondo, the Bulls were a dark-horse favorite to sneak into the Eastern Conference finals. Now, they look like just another out-of-sync squad. They can't run an offense with any consistency and lack a shooter impactful enough to make a difference in today's wide-open, 3-point-obsessed NBA game. More damning still, they're often short on effort and no better organized on the defensive end.

Game 6 is Friday night in Chicago, with the Celtics heavily favored to take their fourth straight, advance against the winner of the Bullets-Hawks, and force the Bulls to try and put all those ill-fitting pieces back together again.

Let's see Hoiberg try palming that chore off on somebody else.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and https://Twitter.com/JimLitke .

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