Don Nelson had every right to be livid after referee Tony Brothers called a foul on Mickael Pietrus that sent Gilbert Arenas to the free throw line with one-tenth of a second left on Fun Street yesterday.
Nelson had every right to wonder whether it was a makeup call after Al Harrington was granted two free throws because of an egregious call against Caron Butler with 2.9 seconds left.
Nelson had every right to make an R-rated assessment of the bizarre situation after going out onto the court to confront Brothers.
“Tony, you’re a [bleeping] idiot,” Nelson said.
Crew chief Derrick Stafford should have ignored Nelson’s outburst and returned the game to the players.
Instead, he imposed a technical foul on Nelson, which led to the game being decided at the foul line.
Arenas converted all three free throw attempts as the Wizards defeated the Warriors 107-106 and avoided losing to an inferior opponent yet again.
“That was very different, very unique,” Eddie Jordan said. “I can’t ever remember seeing a game end like that.”
Nelson’s ire possibly was stoked further by the free throw discrepancy between the two teams. The Wizards finished with 34 free throw attempts, the Warriors 15.
That disparity was a prelude to the referee trio of Brothers, Stafford and Jason Phillips dominating the affair at the end and trying to right one wrong with another.
Nelson said he was told he incurred the technical foul for leaving the bench area, which he thought was a dubious contention.
“Eddie was on the floor as well,” he said. “If they give me one, they have to give him one.”
The Wizards insisted Nelson’s technical foul came about not because of where he was on the floor but because of his interpersonal shortcomings.
“If you call somebody an idiot, you have to get a technical for that one,” Arenas said. “And there was something said before that last word [idiot] was used.”
The call against Butler never should have been made, no more than the call against Pietrus.
Replays indicated that if Pietrus did foul Arenas, it was because Arenas initiated the contact in desperation after the final horn had sounded.
The unwritten code of NBA referees is to let the players decide the outcome of the game, so long as the bumping and jostling is largely incidental.
Yet the crew in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood squandered that prospect after sticking Harrington on the charity stripe.
Brothers apparently decided two bad calls could make a right, although the one against Pietrus was more absurd than the one against Butler.
At least with the latter, the referees did not have to huddle and stick to the cover-your-backside explanation of Pietrus somehow breathing in the personal space of Arenas with one-tenth of a second left.
If Brothers had elected to swallow his whistle instead of handing a gift to Arenas, the Wizards would have been bemoaning their fate and the call against Butler.
“I respect all the calls the officials made,” Jordan said with a grin. “We have to live with it. Now if we had lost, maybe I would have something different to say.”
Jordan has been on the wrong side of referees going brain dead, notably in a December game in Miami last season, when Shaquille O’Neal was awarded two free throw attempts in the waning seconds of regulation because of phantom contact on a loose ball.
O’Neal made one of the two free throw attempts to force an overtime, and the Heat ended up winning the game.
Arenas, in a playful mood after the referee-orchestrated escape, said he told the Warriors to go to the locker room, that the game was over, before stepping to the free throw line.
“This was no playoff game with Cleveland,” Arenas said, referring to his two missed free throw attempts in Game 6 last spring.
It was not that. This was infinitely more obtuse.
As Antawn Jamison said, “You don’t want to see a game decided like that.”