As turnovers mounted and Miami’s seven-point fourth quarter lead went up in smoke Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, frustration hit its peak for Tyler Johnson with a minute and 23 seconds left to play.
That’s when official Leroy Richardson hit Johnson with a technical foul as he gave Richardson an earful about a foul call he didn’t get on a dunk he missed on a fastbreak two possessions earlier.
Afterward, when he was asked how Wizards guard Bradley Beal got to the free throw line 14 times (only five fewer attempts than the Heat as a team Wednesday), coach Erik Spoelstra made sure to sidestep the question and a potential fine from the league.
“We can’t control officiating,” Spoelstra said later. “I mean obviously that got to us at the end, and that’s the way it’s always going to be until we earn it. We haven’t earned anything yet.”
Whether or not Spoelstra decides to take a stronger and potentially costly tone with officiating in the coming days, it’s clear the Heat (6-8) feels like it isn’t getting a fair shake on most nights this season. And there’s some evidence to support that.
Although Miami is one of the most aggressive teams in the league, ranking second to the Toronto Raptors in drives to the basket with 55.1 per game, the Heat is getting to the free throw line for only 4.3 attempts on drives per game, sixth-fewest in the league.
In addition, the Heat is getting fouls called on them at an average of 20.3 fouls per game, sixth-most in the league and is drawing fouls on their opponents at a rate of 18 per game, ninth-fewest. Only three teams have a bigger gap between getting calls to go their way and being called for fouls than the Heat (-35): Golden State (-57), Milwaukee (-54) and Philadelphia (-46).
Managing our frustration is a part that we have to get much better at. I’m not making an excuse for our team and I refuse for them to look for that bailout from the officials.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat coach
“It doesn’t matter what I feel right now,” a frustrated Spoelstra said Thursday at practice. “I still want our guys to play to our identity offensively and that’s to be aggressive. That’s to attack. That’s to get to the paint. We’re second in drives. I love that. We can’t control the officiating, but I am going to be hard on our team.
“We’re not looking for excuses. We’re not looking for a bailout from the officials. We can’t control that. A big part of our challenge right now is developing the mental fortitude to sustain an entire 48 minute game of emotions of runs, of adversity of good stuff and be able to sustain our game and we’re struggling to do that. Managing our frustration is a part that we have to get much better at. I’m not making an excuse for our team and I refuse for them to look for that bailout from the officials.”
That’s clearly the attitude Spoelstra would like his team to take toward the lack of respect they’re getting from officials.
But the reality is it remains a sore subject – especially for starting guards Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic, who rank seventh and eighth in the league respectively in drives to the basket (16-plus each per game) but are averaging 2.4 trips to the line between them on those 32-plus drives.
By comparison, MVP runner-up James Harden is averaging 3.9 free throw attempts on his 17.7 drives per game and Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan leads the league with 4.3 free throw attempts on his 17.6 drives per game.
“You watch games and you see guys get to the free throw line who [are] no where near as aggressive as you. It’s tough,” Waiters said. “Especially with me, Goran, [and James Johnson]. If you watch, it’s contact every play with us. I’ve got to do a better job trying to keep my cool, but sometimes I get frustrated because I know for a fact that I’m getting hit.
“[Wednesday] it took a toll on us as a team, that frustration. Calls [weren’t] going our way, but were not going to make excuses.”
Dragic is so frustrated by the lack of foul calls he’s not getting he says he’s grown tired of the subject altogether and would prefer not to discuss it.
“This is for the last 10 years the same question for me. I’m already past that,” he said Thursday. “I just want to play my game and not to be focused on the refs because when I do that I lose my composure, I lose myself and I’m not a big help to my team.
“I just want to focus on those things I can correct on the team and that’s it. It is what it is. It’s not only us. It’s probably a lot of guards on teams that they’re going through that. At the end of the day you need to play through those tough moments.”