David Fizdale didn’t produce an epic rant Monday night compared to others we’ve seen, but made his point nonetheless.
He was a bit, um, displeased with the officiating.
In case you missed it, the Memphis coach went off after the 96-82 Game 2 loss to San Antonio because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard was sent to the free-throw line 19 times — he made them all — while the Grizzlies attempted only 15 free throws as a team. Anyone who has followed the Grizzlies over the last several seasons know they’re that rare team that still plays an old-school brand of ball: P0und the ball inside to big guys Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, attack the glass and draw some fouls.
Memphis played its typical style, but the free throws didn’t come despite 35 shot attempts in the lane. Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, by comparison, went inside 18 times and attempted 32 free throws. Mild-mannered Memphis point guard Mike Conley got to the line five times, which wasn’t enough if you asked his head coach. Only three Grizzlies visited the charity stripe.
Fizdale, an assistant on Miami’s title teams in 2012 and 2013, came to a boil before he could get to his postgame glass of wine.
“We don’t get the respect that these guys deserve because (Conley) doesn’t go crazy,” Fizdale said. “He has class; he just plays the game. But I’m not going to let them treat us this way. I know Pop’s got pedigree and I’m a young rookie, but I’m not going to let them rook us. That’s unacceptable. That was unprofessional. My guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game, and they did not give us a chance.
“Take that for data,” he said in closing, as he slapped the interview table.
Conley was later asked if he received the proper respect from the refs after the game.
“As far as getting to the free-throw line? No, but they respect me as a person, I feel like,” Conley said. “But when it comes to the game, I’m not sure.”
That’s as close to a controversial statement as you’ll get from Conley, who hasn’t received a technical foul in a combined 907 high school, college and NBA games.
Memphis did not show up early on, but I witnessed several instances where fouls could have been called on the Spurs, but weren’t. On the other end, Leonard did earn most of his freebies, but received the superstar treatment on at least two occasions, one in the first half when he was awarded two free throws while clearly passing the ball — the Spurs’ weren’t in the bonus — and the other late in the game when he got the call after his shot was clearly tied up for what should have been a jump ball.
This isn’t a new trend on preferential treatment. The stars get the calls and Leonard’s all-star status has coincided with more visits to the line. He attempted 7.2 free throws per game during the regular season, an increase from 4.6 in 2016.
“I just don’t understand it,” Randolph answered when I asked about him attempting zero free throws despite the league cred he has earned with his hard-hat approach over 17 seasons.
As for Fizdale’s tirade, it’s surprising he wasn’t fined Tuesday morning after figuratively landing on the most expensive property of the NBA’s Monopoly board by calling out the officials. His comments brought to mind the time legendary Purdue coach Gene Keady went on an expletive-filled rant after a 1990 NCAA Tournament loss to Texas.
“You run a program, you don’t cheat, you graduate all your kids, you do things right and the damn referees are all the same,” Keady said to reporter as he pounded the interview table. “It gets old. I’m tired of it. We’ve got good kids who work hard, and they’re in there crying their eyes out because some guys don’t understand the game.”
The NCAA docked Keady $10,000 for those comments. In his book, Keady wrote he later found out the officials were friends of UT coach Tom Penders.
“Had I known that, I probably would have a received a $20,000 fine,” he said.
So Fizdale did what any coach would have done and I can’t blame him for speaking out against what he believed to be the Mediterranean Ave. treatment. This will predictably lead to a bountiful feast of Grizzly free throws when the venue switches to Memphis’ FedEx Forum for Game 3 on Thursday.
Fizdale’s fury aside, no amount of free throws, wine or whine can save Memphis from a San Antonio juggernaut that’s plenty good enough to win it all.