SI:AM | Pacers Have More Officiating Complaints After Dropping Game 2

But Indiana should shoulder plenty of the blame, too.
Carlisle, who was not happy with a late call in Game 2, was ejected from the game.
Carlisle, who was not happy with a late call in Game 2, was ejected from the game. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an umpire take a shot to the groin as brutal as this one.

In today’s SI:AM: 

😡 More Pacers complaints

🗽 The legend of Jalen Brunson
🏀 NBA draft big board

Rick Carlisle can expect a fine for this

The Indiana Pacers had a golden opportunity to take Game 2 of their series against a hobbled New York Knicks team and head back home with the series tied at a game apiece. Jalen Brunson sat out the entire second quarter with a foot injury and wasn’t moving like his normal self when he returned. OG Anunoby left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. Mitchell Robinson had already been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs with an ankle injury. But the Pacers still fell, 130–121.

The Pacers themselves obviously deserve the bulk of the blame for their demise, but they also have complaints about the officiating (again). Their gripe this time is different from the questionable judgment call on Myles Turner’s moving screen in Game 1 but equally significant.

With 1:20 left in the fourth quarter, Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein was whistled for a double dribble. Except Hartenstein never picked up his dribble. It was a bad call by the referees, and they gathered to talk it over. After a brief discussion, the officials called it an “inadvertent whistle” and the Knicks retained possession.

The moment mirrored something that happened late in Game 1, when the Pacers were inaccurately whistled for a kicked ball violation. Video of the play clearly showed that Indiana’s Aaron Nesmith had deflected the ball with his hand, but the Pacers weren’t able to challenge the call. Crew chief Zach Zarba told a pool reporter after the game that teams are only allowed to challenge fouls, goaltending calls and out-of-bounds rulings. But if the officials were able to conference and reverse an obviously incorrect call in Game 2, why couldn’t they have done the same in Game 1 when it would have benefited the Pacers?

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was incensed by the reversal. The Knicks took advantage of the officials’ decision and ran about 40 seconds off the clock (thanks to two offensive rebounds) before Brunson scored to stretch his team’s lead to eight points. Carlisle responded by calling a timeout and then resumed yelling at the officials. He was issued a technical foul and then assessed a second tech and ejected a few minutes later. After the game, Carlisle resumed his complaints.

“Small-market teams deserve an equal shot,” he told reporters. “They deserve a fair shot. No matter where they’re playing.”

Specifically, Carlisle believes the officials have been letting the Knicks be more physical than his team.

“I’m always talking to our guys about not making it about the officials, but we deserve a fair shot,” he said. “There’s not a consistent balance and that’s disappointing. So give New York credit for the physicality that they’re playing with. But their physicality is rewarded and ours is penalized time after time. I’m just really disappointed. Just really disappointed. The two technicals, you gotta make a stand for your guys.”

The Pacers have taken the added step of lodging their complaints with the league. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Pacers “have submitted 78 plays to the NBA that they felt went against them incorrectly during Games 1 and 2.” That number includes 29 calls from Game 1 and 49 from Game 2. (The two games were not officiated by the same trio of referees.)

The calls certainly haven’t gone their way, but the Pacers have had problems in the series beyond the officiating. They’re getting out-rebounded 84–66 and have had too many defensive lapses that have led to open looks from three for the Knicks. New York is shooting a blistering .472 from three in the series this far. In the second half of Game 2, the Pacers saw their 10-point halftime lead disappear as the Knicks shot 8-for-17 (.471) from three. Carlisle also made the puzzling decision to take T.J. McConnell out of the game early in the fourth quarter and keep him on the bench for the rest of the game. McConnell was excellent in 23 minutes off the bench, scoring 10 points and adding 12 assists. Most crucially, he played hellacious defense on Brunson. But Carlisle kept him on the bench as the Knicks pulled away down the stretch.

Carlisle may be right that the Knicks are benefiting from some home cooking at Madison Square Garden, but the Pacers have other things to iron out as the series shifts to Indianapolis if they want to come back and win it.

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Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).