Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale didn’t hold back when he rammed the officiating crew for lopsided foul calling after Memphis’ 96-82 Game 2 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
The rookie coach may be in line for a hefty fine from the league office, but he also had a point.
Only three Grizzlies players shot free throws on Monday night: James Ennis III, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. That trio combined for just 13-of-15 shooting from the foul line. Kawhi Leonard took more trips to the charity stripe than Memphis as a whole.
Fouling opponents too much is a season-long trend that has plagued the Grizzlies. They share the league’s worst opponent free-throw rate with the Phoenix Suns and are well behind the Spurs, who ranked sixth in fewest fouls committed per 100 field goal attempts.
"We don't get the respect that these guys deserve because Mike Conley doesn't go crazy," Fizdale said. "But I'm not gonna let them treat us that way. I know Pop's got pedigree, and I'm a young rookie. But they're not gonna rook us.
“That's unacceptable. That was unprofessional. Our guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game. And they did not even give us a chance."
Those numbers came to life in Game 2
Frustration began to boil over in the first half, when the Grizzlies took 19 shots in the paint, but only attempted six free throws. That same half, the Spurs attempted 11 shots in the paint, but got to the line 23 times.
The no-calls eventually prompted a normally collected Vince Carter to go after 23-year-old Kyle Anderson early in the second quarter. Carter was mad that Anderson shoving him on a cut went uncalled.
The trend continued through halftime. In fact, the Spurs more than doubled the total number of free throws the Grizzlies attempted, shooting 31-of-32 from the line, with Leonard nailing a perfect 19-of-19 foul shots.
Given the talent disparity between the West’s second and seventh seeds, it was already a tall order asking Memphis to compete against a San Antonio team with the league’s second-best record. Blown whistles, or lack thereof, took that disparity and blew it wide open.
All night long, the Grizzlies dealt with missed or flat-out ignored foul calls.
There were the subtle shoves in the back like this one from Leonard on JaMychal Green under the hoop:
There were two uncalled elbows that were equal parts painful and debilitating. First, David Lee popped Gasol.
Then, Leonard knocked Green away to get an open jumper.
There were missed and-one calls that cost the Grizzlies valuable momentum-shifting sequences.
There were the back-to-back no-calls on Mike Conley at the end of the first quarter, the second of which prompted Fizdale to rip into the officials.
And there were several other no-calls on Gasol drives down low:
It might be the Spurs, not the officials.
San Antonio is the league’s second-best team mostly because of Leonard’s play, but in part because of its height. Between Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Dewayne Dedmon up front and Leonard and Danny Green on the wings, the Spurs have the size to contest most attempts at the rim. It’s the reason why one of the NBA’s oldest teams boast the league’s best defensive efficiency.
Yet, San Antonio was still the beneficiary of a few whiffed calls.
This, for example, is an uncalled foul on Patty Mills. Mills appears to jump into Conley, but referees sometimes let that go. Yet, Memphis wasn’t afforded any mercy when Leonard extended his elbow and drew a foul on a frustrated Gasol on the other end.
Here’s another example of Z-Bo getting whacked on one end (losing his headband in the process), only to watch Leonard get to the line on a soft call the next possession.
And this excellent defensive contest by Gasol is almost certainly a jump ball. Instead, it was called a shooting foul.
The Grizzlies aren’t asking for much. They just want equal treatment. A blue-collar team whose very existence in the playoffs is a product of the dirty work, Memphis just wants to be rewarded the same way San Antonio has been.
Most adults understand that life isn’t fair. The Grizzlies do have a reputation for fouling opponents that’s been built over several years before Fizdale arrived.
But referees are supposed to be fair, and they weren’t in Game 2. Fizdale had a point.