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Moore: The Fouls the Refs Did (And Didn’t) Miss in Rockets-Warriors Game 1


Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden

  • After the Rockets fell to the Warriors in Game 1 Sunday, the refs were at the center of NBA conversation.
  • Matt Moore looks at the hotly-debated "landing-zone fouls" and where Houston goes from here.

Let’s start with a few things from Rockets-Warriors Game 1 so we understand just what we’re talking about here.

  • The officiating did not cost the Rockets Game 1, any more than their shooting 14-of-47 from 3-point range, or missing five free throws, or allowing Kevin Durant to score 35 points (be it by design or not), or leaving Nene in and allowing a late switch onto Steph Curry (upon which Curry of course daggered) cost them Game 1. You can always overcome officiating if you play better. The Rockets played well. They played well enough to win. They didn’t win, because they didn’t do enough to leave the margin with no doubt.
  • The key calls being debated are “dangerous” in that a player landing can turn an ankle. That’s the most likely scenario. There are more severe injuries that can conceivably occur, but this isn’t like undercutting someone dunking who could break their arm or hip. They can lead to injuries, but “dangerous” is probably too strong a word.
  • The Rockets still got James Harden to the line 16 times. As a team, they got there 29 times overall,  two more than the Warriors.  They weren’t jobbed out of calls, and the Warriors didn’t live at the line.
  • I firmly believe the non-called fouls were not the product of an intended strategy. Steve Kerr isn’t sending out his goons to injure James Harden because he doesn’t have goons and he wouldn’t do that. I also don’t believe the intention of these plays was to injure Harden. That they were dangerous was the product of an attempt to close out on shooters hard, not to injure them.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s address it. The calls in Game 1 of Warriors-Rockets, specifically those pertaining to Warriors closeouts on Houston shooters, were bad, missed calls. They were very clearly fouls. They were very clearly damaging to a team that needs those shots specifically. And the way they were executed was clearly outside the boundaries of the rules. The results of those non-calls were clearly to the detriment of Houston’s chances of winning the game, a 104-100 Golden State victory.

Here’s what we’re talking about.

A Brief History of the Undercut

There was a great Spur named Bruce Bowen. You may have seen him on television in a bow tie. Seems like a good dude, well liked in San Antonio. But he had a habit of this:


Bowen wasn’t the first player to use that tactic, but he was the one who got caught the most since YouTube came available.

That put the undercut on the national stage many years ago. It was always a tactic that was frowned on, but more accepted when physicality and dirtier play was considered more acceptable. It faded in recent years, especially in the 3-point explosion since everyone’s a jumpshooter now.

But then, this happened two years ago:

OK, now look, it’s easy to point to that and notice that it was in fact the Warriors on that sequence. But Zaza Pachulia’s no longer on the team and Pachulia was specifically brought on board to be “the tough guy.” It’s a coincidence, truly.

The rule is pretty simple and is available for clarification via the NBA’s officiating website. The shooter has the right to the space he takes to land off a jump shot. Here’s a crucial component in this video for later: you can jump forward if you don’t kick your legs out. If you do, it’s an offensive foul. And just like with a charge, if an opponent is just standing in a spot and you leap into them, it’s either a no-call or an offensive foul depending on how you land. This is really important. We’ll come back to it later.

Let’s talk about Sunday.


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