Yahoo Sports senior NBA writer Vincent Goodwill spoke with Head of Referee Development and Training Monty McCutchen about how playoff refereeing has changed through the years, and explains that the ‘hard playoff foul’ of the 1990’s will not be making a return.
VINCENT GOODWILL: The hard playoff foul, as we once knew it, doesn't exist anymore. We all love the enforcers, the dudes who made you fear coming down the lane-- the Rick Mahorns, the Charles Oakleys, the Dennis Rodmans. But the league is moving away from that. And even plays like Al Horford hitting Giannis Antetokounmpo in the face after a dunk brings back memories of Kobe Bryant hitting and flailing away at Manu Ginóbili upside the head years ago, leading to Kobe's suspension.
Upon review, we've all seen NBA officials go to the scorer's table to call for a replay, to see if contact fits the criteria for a flagrant foul. And it's true-- flagrant fouls over the last three seasons have been doubled from the three seasons before that.
I talked to head of officiating, Monty McCutchen, and he confirmed, while he understands the annoyance with the frequency of refs reviewing fouls or excessive contact, he believes to err on the side of caution, more than a knee-jerk reaction. Officials want to get it right, and the rules are structured so there's less wriggle room for individual interpretation. And if nothing else, the officials have tried to establish consistency, going back to the regular season.
Nobody's arguing about Dillon Brooks's flagrant two foul on Gary Payton II, but others feel a little bit murky. Dorian Finney-Smith's hard foul on Devin Booker looked like a textbook hard foul. Prevent a layup. It wasn't overly dangerous or physical, nor was it aimed at Booker's head. But McCutchen says Benny Smith launched himself at a rate of speed at Booker and didn't go for the ball, hitting him at a vulnerable spot, thus a flagrant foul.
Now, at the point of emphasis at the start of the season, that seems to allow more physical play on the perimeter-- only lasted but for so long, and the scores went right back up. McCutchen does make a great point. The pace and space era that we're in means less congestion inside and more opportunity for wind-up, follow-through, and impact. And virtually any contact to the head will prompt at least a review because the NBA is very sensitive to head injuries and the possibility of concussions.
Teams [INAUDIBLE] complain, and we, as viewers and fans, often bemoan the way things used to be. Some calls are used to make preventative measures, as the league doesn't want any massive brawls that puts [? Black ?] [? guys ?] on the NBA. So the incidents that we don't see are considered a success.
We may not always agree, but we can at least understand what the league is coming from, even though they don't always get it right.