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Breaking down the foul that wasn’t called

Yes, it was a missed call, and yes, the Celtics caught a break. However, they deserve credit for taking advantage.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics
LeBron James was visibly distraught after not getting a foul call to end regulation.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

If you went to bed early, and missed the end of Celtics-Lakers, you may want to watch the fourth quarter and overtime on DVR before you settle into football mode this afternoon.

It had everything one could possibly want from a game – big-time buckets, surprising swings, theatrics and much more. It also had a major missed call – yes, one that benefitted the Celtics.

With the game tied at the end of regulation, LeBron James drove left and elevated toward the rim. At first glance, it appeared as though he uncharacteristically lost the ball or had his shot blocked.

The replay, however, clearly showed that Jayson Tatum slapped James directly on his forearm. It was absolutely a foul. The NBA admitted it minutes after the buzzer.

The Lakers should have won (assuming James hit a free throw or two), but instead, the Celtics escaped regulation unscathed and ultimately earned a highly dramatic, 125-121 overtime win Saturday night.

Here’s a look at the play. You’d have to have your green glasses tinted to the maximum setting to not think this was a foul.

I can’t stand the people who say the NBA is rigged, but they’re probably having a field day right now. It’s not rigged. Players miss shots. Refs miss calls. Plus, James has surely gotten a favorable call or two throughout his career, though he hasn’t gotten as kind of a whistle lately.

“It’s challenging,” James told reporters afterward. “I don’t get it.”

It was surprising, though, that they didn’t give James the benefit of the doubt. I’m generally a fan of calling as few fouls as possible at the end of tight games, but some can’t be avoided.

Who knows why they didn’t call that one? Maybe they don’t even know. Maybe the backboard blocked their view. Maybe they spaced out. Maybe they thought the slap wasn't loud enough.

The Lakers certainly took umbrage with the ruling and, understandably, feel as though they were short-changed.

“It’s bull***,” Anthony Davis told reporters. “It’s unacceptable ... We got cheated tonight.”

What followed was even more fascinating than the missed call itself, as James keeled over and pleaded with the referees to change the call. Of course, they couldn’t at that point, but James didn't relent. His reaction had a bit of Pete Weber and a bit of me when my March Madness bracket is busted a few hours into the tournament.

To say he was incensed would be putting it lightly. It was quite possibly the most visibly distraught he’s ever been throughout his career. The JR Smith incident also comes to mind, but that was during the NBA Finals.

If you haven’t watched the video in a while, it always brings a good chuckle.

Interestingly, that was also in a tie game, on the road, at the end of regulation. This one was a regular-season game, and to the general observer, it seemed to affect James more.

Late Saturday night, James was still clearly furious and confused.

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect how deeply James cares about each possession all these years later.

It wasn’t done yet, though. Patrick Beverley – a nudnik on all nights but particularly on this one – grabbed a camera from a photographer, presumably pulled up a picture of James getting fouled and showed it to the referee.

That was legitimately one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. He earned his technical.

But credit to the Celtics for taking advantage of the extra life. The Lakers appeared to be defeated in overtime, especially in the final seconds, but the Celtics deserve praise for maximizing the opportunity.

You can’t give a great team that many chances, especially at home, and expect to prevail.

Jaylen Brown acknowledged the refs might have missed one, but he said “that’s life” and that the Lakers will “be all right.”

Jayson Tatum offered a clever response.

“The last two minutes and overtime was a blur,” Tatum told reporters. “I don’t really know what happened. Think I have to watch the game, watch the film. Everything happened so fast. Gotta move on and we got the win. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

That’s code for: yes, it was a foul and yes, the Celtics got away with one and yes, they really needed that win.

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