BOSTON — LeBron James sat in front of his locker with his knees wrapped in ice, staring straight ahead, searching for an answer to a problem that had plagued him for weeks, if not all season.
“I don’t understand,” James kept repeating to himself after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 125-121 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Saturday.
For several weeks, James’ frustration with the way he has been officiated this season has been bubbling. Within seconds of the end of regulation against the Celtics, it erupted on one of the game’s biggest regular-season stages: a prime-time game between the league’s fiercest rivals.
With four seconds remaining and the game tied at 105, James got past Malcolm Brogdon and easily reached the edge. As James extended his left arm for a lay-up, Jayson Tatum spun around and slid down, hitting James’ arm and causing him to miss the close range attempt when time expired.
To James’ disbelief, there was no whistle.
Overtime at TD Garden.
LeBron James’ layup goes wrong and the Lakers and Celtics will play an extra five minutes.
James was visibly upset that a foul had not been called.
— Athletics (@TheAthletic) January 29, 2023
He immediately stomped, gesturing with his left arm to highlight where the contact had occurred. James then jumped up in an unusual display of emotion. As his frustration overwhelmed him, he collapsed on the floor, struggling to contain his anger.
“You did see my reaction” James said matter-of-factly when asked about his reaction to the lack of appeal.
This one took a LOT of TIME!!! I do not understand
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 29, 2023
Patrick Beverley, who prides himself on having his teammates’ backs, took a camera near a base photographer and showed the image to the referee, earning a technical foul before extra time had even started and sparking a chain of memes.
In a post-match pool report, team manager Eric Lewis admitted that the referee team missed Tatum’s contact on James’ lay-up attempt.
“There was contact,” Lewis said. “At the time, during the match, we did not see any fault. The team missed the play.
Anthony Davis, who also spoke to the media outside his locker, a few yards from James, sounded the no appeal and general arbitration.
“(Tatum) fouled him,” Davis said. “He fouled it. Clearly. Clearly. It’s bulls—. …It’s unacceptable. And I guarantee nothing will happen to the refs. We got screwed tonight, honestly. It’s a flagrant foul…. It’s unacceptable, to be honest. The referees were bad. They were bad tonight.
The post-game locker room scene was tense and upset. The players quickly got rid of. Each conversation included questions and criticisms about final possession, as well as why referees can’t be heavily penalized for missing a call that costs a team a game.
Beverley and Russell Westbrook declined to speak to the media after the match.
Even Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who is usually measured with his officiating analysis, was obviously disappointed as he spoke.
“Even if you try not to put it on the refereeing, it gets harder and harder,” Ham said.
The Lakers have suffered several recent losses in which critical time calls did not go in their favor, including against Dallas, Philadelphia and Sacramento.
In their double-overtime loss to the Mavericks, James was fouled by Christian Wood on a similar play late in the first overtime, but the foul went uncalled.
If those calls had gone down correctly in favor of the Lakers, along with final possession against the Celtics, the 23-27 Lakers, who are 13th in the West, would likely be 27-23 and fourth in the conference.
“I watch basketball every day,” James said. “I watch games every day. And I don’t see that happening to anyone else. It’s just weird.
The Celtics (39 free throw attempts) made nearly twice as many free throws as the Lakers (20). James attempted just six free throws, nearly half those of Tatum (12) and Jaylen Brown (11).
“The best player on Earth can’t take a call,” Ham said. “It’s incredible.”
James, who finished with 41 points on 15-for-30 shooting, almost wanting the Lakers to win, said he felt he wasn’t officiated like other stars.
“It’s tough,” James said. ” I don’t understand. I attack the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league who shoot double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.
Ham speculated that the discrepancy was due to James’ style of play, referring to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Shaquille O’Neal as players who were equally difficult to referee given their strength, power and skill. their physique.
“He’s a guy who decides to play the right way…plays a strong, physical brand of basketball, and, just because he doesn’t flop or fail or scream not when he shoots the ball, like I see a ton of other players do that, he gets penalized for that,” Ham said. “…These guys who play physically and really try to focus on finishing games, sometimes it doesn’t go in their favor. But then you see other guys moaning with every hit or whatever they get…and they’re the ones getting the whistles.
And all year long, they keep saying to my face on the court: “I didn’t see it” or “It wasn’t a fault”. It doesn’t make sense to me seriously! Frustrating as hell man! Either way, carry on Squad! 💜💛👑 https://t.co/tsrlXtJjuO
— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 16, 2023
James acknowledged his visceral reaction was due to the emotions that have built up throughout the season – and the irritation of the calls seemingly leading directly to losses.
“Nah, it was built,” James said. “It’s building, because you’ve seen some of the games we’ve lost this year with missed calls late in the game. We had the opportunity to literally win the game. I had the second in the last few weeks for myself: against Dallas, I had the opportunity to win on a faulty call. K-Nunn the other day had the opportunity to tie the game (against Sacramento) if the four-point play is called off. I don’t understand.”
The Lakers still had a chance to win in overtime, but the Celtics took a six-point lead in the first minute as the Lakers were clearly processing what had just happened.
The emotional carryover was ultimately too much for the group to handle, at least in a hostile road environment against the league’s top team.
“You always think about that,” Davis said. “You’re not even supposed to be in this situation, to be honest. You are not supposed to go into overtime.
The Lakers have already communicated with the league, but with the umpires’ count, they’re unsure what the best course of action is.
“I mean, we have different avenues where you can…I think Monty McCutchen, he’s definitely transparent and there are different mechanisms that we have access to to voice our concerns and they give good feedback,” Ham said. “But afterwards, it’s like all you can hope for is that he becomes more consistent.”
James said he would not contact the league.
“No, I’m not going into that,” James said. “Our organization decides they want to do this, that’s cool, but it’s not going to change s—.”
The Lakers are no strangers to heartbreaking losses. They have been one of the worst teams in the league this season, losing abysmal dozen times. That’s what makes Saturday’s loss so hard to accept. They were right the. They led for much of the game – and they really needed this win.
Perhaps if the Lakers had had a better record, their reaction would have been softer to the blown call. But it’s the type of loss that can come back to sting the Lakers in April when they vie for playoff and Play-In positioning.
Los Angeles was one step away from potentially starting its five-game road trip with a decisive win. They faced off with the best team in the NBA for the second time this season.
But instead, they are left searching for explanations of why so many calls keep coming against them at crucial times, and waiting for the moment when they finally turn the corner and cement themselves in the lurch. playoff image.
“Like I told you guys, we have no room for error,” James said. “And it’s one of the best games we’ve played all year, and to fall on somebody else – to fall on somebody else’s judgment or non-judgment is Ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.”
(Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)