The New York Knicks lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 101-100 in overtime at Madison Square Garden Sunday night, but that was not the entire story. As a matter of fact, falling to the Eastern Conference leaders for the second time in less than a week wasn’t even the most important news to come out of the evening. A late call by the officials that decided the contest, and the reaction to it, specifically by Julius Randle, is all anyone with the Knicks has been debating for the last several hours.
I have to admit, my first reaction while watching the game Sunday night was, “It was a foul. Randle blew it. Be mad at him not the officials.” However, now that I have had time to listen to the experts and think it through a little more, I have flip-flopped on my opinion.
The play in question came after the Knicks had taken a 100-99 lead in the extra session. New York was attempting to pull off the game-winning stop. And it appeared that they had it. After a 76ers miss, Nerlens Noel hauled down the backside rebound with 5.3 to go, giving New York the chance to ice it.
Suddenly, a whistle blew and Randle was called for a loose ball foul for shoving Tobias Harris in the back. Harris made both foul shots. Randle got a good look to tie the contest on a last second shot, but it rimmed out. It was the third last possession loss in the last four games for the Knicks.
First, it was a foul on Randle. There is no arguing that. And the idea that the officials should be crucified because they didn’t give Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau a chance to use a challenge on the call was irrelevant. The Knicks would certainly have lost that challenge.
“They said we didn’t challenge,’’ Thibodeau said. “Usually at the end of the game, there’s going to be — as they would say — marginal contact, incidental contact, every other kind of contact. All I know is that we were getting hit a lot and there wasn’t marginal contact on that, so..”
The part that was infuriating was that even though it was the correct call, it was a call that shouldn’t have been called. And usually is not under the circumstances. It put the officials in the spotlight as the ones who decided the game not the players.
After the game Randle expressed his thoughts about the call, and he did not hold back.
“Blown call by the officials. Not enough contact for them to call the play,” Randle said before storming out of a Zoom call. “I don’t know who it was — Nerlens [Noel] — but clearly he had possession [of the ball].”
Randle, in my opinion was partially correct in his assessment. Noel did indeed haul down the rebound and had possession of the ball. And whether or not Randle fouled Harris, Randle’s actions were not going to change the end result of the play. But to say it was a blown call and should not have been a foul is wrong. He shoved Harris in the back with his forearm extended.
“After all the fouling and everything that was going on, for them to call that and decide the game is f—ing ridiculous. They have to do a better job. It’s too many games like this.”
There is the key. Randle hit it on the head with that statement. And it is why I have changed my intial response. The Knicks do come out on the short end of these kind of calls more times than not. The shot was missed. The rebound was collected. The game was over. I have always believed that officials should call a game based on advantage/disadvantage. However, there was no advantage gained on this play. Harris wasn’t going to get the rebound, regardless of what Randle did to him.
In fairness to the offciating crew they were calling the game short a member. Dannica Mosher was not available due to the league’s health and safety protocols. With that being said, this controversy was not about a call that was missed due to having two less eyes on the floor to see it. It was about making a call that didn’t need to be. The result was what decided a game.
The next step for the Knicks is to put it all behind them and move on. The surging Washington Wizards come to the The Mecca for a two-game series beginning on Tuesday night. It may be two of the most crucial games of the season for 20-21 New York. Will they let the frustation of the last week overwhelm them? Or will they bounce back, push the rest button and put their record back over .500? Stay tuned.
(Photo: Associated Press)