Carmelo Anthony earned his first ejection of the 2017-18 NBA season on Sunday. Well, “earned” might be a bit too strong a word, when you take a few close looks at the play that earned the All-Star forward the flagrant foul-2 that got him run from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s meeting with the Portland Trail Blazers in Oregon:
With 4 1/2 minutes to go in the third quarter and the Blazers holding an 11-point lead, Anthony isolated on the left wing, burst past the defense of young forward Noah Vonleh and made his break for the basket. When he reached the paint, he was met by Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, who leapt to try to contest Anthony’s shot attempt. While the two players were in the air, Anthony double-clutched the ball, bringing down his left elbow square into Nurkic’s face, before flipping up a shot with his left hand that found its way through the basket.
The initial call on the floor was a foul on Nurkic, his fourth. But after Nurkic himself hit the floor, and stayed there in a heap holding his face, the officials elected to head to the replay monitors and review the play.
Carmelo Anthony made a wild attempt to initiate contact on a drive & got ejected. Seems a bit excessive pic.twitter.com/PU7jQLgaDt
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) November 6, 2017
What they came up with represented a very stark reversal: there would be no foul on Nurkic, Anthony’s basket was waved off and Melo was hit with a flagrant-2 that necessitated an automatic and immediate ejection.
It is fair to say that Anthony was pretty confused and dismayed by the call …
… and he wasn’t the only one …
Melo shouldn’t have been thrown out for that, flagrant 1 but not ejected that’s crazy.
Can’t believe Melo got ejected off an And1
— Jared M.X. Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) November 6, 2017
The NBA is so SOFT!! Carmelo got thrown out for that?? Mind you call on floor was a foul on Nurkic!! What a joke, seriously, A JOKE.
— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) November 6, 2017
Pretty terrible flagrant 2 call on Carmelo Anthony’s drive. I️ imagine that’ll get rescinded tomorrow, but damage done tonight.
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) November 6, 2017
… but there was nothing he could do about it, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds and exiting the game with more than 16 minutes still to go. Despite the best efforts of fellow Thunder stars Paul George (27 points, five rebounds, three steals, two assists) and Russell Westbrook (25 points, nine assists, six rebounds, two steals), Oklahoma City couldn’t complete a comeback, falling 103-99 to a Blazers team led by point guard Damian Lillard (36 points, 13 assists, five rebounds) and Nurkic, who shook off the shot to the face to finish with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
After the game, a pool reporter asked referee Rodney Mott to explain why Anthony got the gate for an offensive foul.
“We deemed that the contact was excessive and that it was not a natural basketball move where he seeks out Nurkic, hits him in the face with an elbow and goes back to the basket,” Mott said, according to Royce Young of ESPN. “So because it’s unnatural and it’s deemed excessive, therefore it is a flagrant foul penalty two.”
One man’s “replay-review-aided assessment of unnatural movement” is another’s “result of incidental contact that can come with roaming the territory inside the paint.” Westbrook, however, had a different term for it.
“It’s nonsense, man,” he said, according to Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. “It don’t make any sense, man. You can’t get kicked out for some nonsense like that. You know, I mean, being able to go to the basket, protecting himself. Guy got hit. That’s fine. He got up. The crowd reacted. They made a play, kicked him out the game. That’s unacceptable in my opinion. That’s not worthy of getting kicked out the game, but it is what it is.”
The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player offered an even more colorful take on the matter — one that’s sure to cost him a chunk of change.
“I got hit in the face [a couple of minutes earlier]. They didn’t review it, as they should,” Westbrook told reporters. “You know, I just think that when it’s us, our team, myself, they don’t do the same thing they do [for other teams]. Other game, last game, tipped ball against the Celtics, I accidentally hit [Celtics forward Jaylen Brown] in the face. Flagrant foul on me. It was an accident, but I hit him. I accidentally got hit in the face today. Nobody looks at it. Melo go hit Nurkic — ‘Oh, we gonna review it.’
“It’s just a bunch of bulls***, in my opinion. I just think they don’t referee the same way all the time. They pick and choose when they want to do it, which is not fair, in my opinion. You know, I’ve been in this league for a while, and I’m able to see and understand and see what’s right and what’s wrong. But I can see it’s blatant s*** that’s not getting looked at, in my opinion. If you get hit, you need to look at it. You’ve got to look at everything else. You need to take a look at it.”
Others in the Thunder locker room voiced similar opinions, according to Young:
[Thunder head coach Billy] Donovan didn’t directly criticize the officiating, but when asked if Westbrook’s free throw struggles “concerned” him, he redirected the question to talk about the foul shooting discrepancy.
“What’s more concerning to me is our opponents have gotten to the free throw line 50 more times than we have,” Donovan said. “And we’ve got a player in Russell who clearly, historically in this league, has gotten to the free throw line as much or if not more than anybody else in this league.” […]
“We haven’t been getting the benefit. Every night, we haven’t been getting the benefit of the doubt,” George said. “I don’t know what it is, especially for Russ. He attacks the basket, and so many of his plays at the rim are questionable, and he’s not getting the benefit of the doubt.”
Asked if anyone explained why the officials decided to review Anthony’s shot to Nurkic’s face and not the one he took a couple of minutes earlier, Westbrook offered one suggestion, with a bit of a sneer, on how he could start getting a better benefit of the doubt.
“I guess, you know, maybe I should stay on the floor for 10 minutes, and then maybe they’ll look at it then,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know. It’s all right.”
Anthony, for his part, chose to steer clear of controversy.
“They called it,” he said, according to Dawson. “Ain’t no need to overreact to it. I’m pretty sure a lot of people seen it. People saw it. I’m pretty sure people’s opinion is in favor of the way that I think.”
“I don’t have no thoughts,” he added, according to Young. “I don’t have anything to say about that play. I think the league will do what’s right.”
They very well might, rescinding the flagrant and putting Anthony out of dutch with the league office. At the same time, though, they’re almost certainly going to hit Westbrook with a hefty fine for both profanity and claiming the officials have it out for OKC. That doesn’t necessarily scream “justice,” but it does seem an appropriate enough outcome for a Thunder team that’s losing a bit more than it’s winning these days, sitting 4-5 on the season and working through a gelling process that has us looking at Russ and company like … well, you know.
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