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LeBron James, Lakers irate over crucial missed call in loss to Celtics

Referee Eric Lewis acknowledged that his officiating crew missed a foul by Jayson Tatum (right) on LeBron James (left) in the closing seconds of regulation, helping lift the Celtics to an overtime win over the Lakers on Saturday. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
6 min

The Los Angeles Lakers left their “Rivalry Week” showdown against the Boston Celtics furious with a different foe: the officials.

LeBron James and company suffered a 125-121 overtime loss in Boston on Saturday night, a nip-and-tuck affair that included several controversial calls in the closing seconds of regulation. With the score tied at 105 and less than five seconds remaining, James drove to the hoop and was slapped hard on his left arm by Jayson Tatum as he attempted what could have been a game-winning layup.

The force of Tatum’s foul contributed to James’s shot coming up short, forcing overtime. An incredulous James immediately shouted at the officials, tapped his arm repeatedly to indicate the contact and hopped up and down when no foul was called on Tatum. Once time expired, he crumbled to his knees and held his head in disbelief.

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Replays clearly indicated that Tatum had made contact, and the ABC broadcasting crew was unanimous that the referees had missed a foul call.

“We don’t have room for error,” James said to reporters before listing several recent late-game calls that he felt had gone against the Lakers. “This is one of the best games we’ve played all year, and for this to fall on somebody else’s judgment or non-judgment is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.

“[My frustration] has been building. You guys have seen some of the games that we’ve lost this year with late-game missed calls. We had an opportunity to win the game. … I watch these games every single day, and I don’t see it happening to nobody else. It’s just weird.”

Lakers center Anthony Davis was even more blunt, telling reporters that the officiating was “bulls---” and that Tatum had committed a “blatant foul” on James.

“It’s unacceptable, and I guarantee nothing is going to happen to the refs,” he said. “We got cheated tonight, honestly. … The refs were bad tonight. To miss a call that blatant, the ref is sitting right there on the baseline, it’s tough. … It’s not fair. I guarantee if the refs started getting fined for missed calls, it would be a lot better. But nothing’s going to be done.”

During a postgame interview with a pool reporter, referee Eric Lewis acknowledged that the officiating crew had erred by not assessing a foul on Tatum.

There was contact,” Lewis said. “At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

The National Basketball Referees Association posted a Twitter statement on Sunday, again taking responsibility for the missed foul call.

“Like everyone else, referees make mistakes,” the statement read. “We made one at the end of last night’s game and that is gut-wrenching for us. This play will weigh heavily and cause sleepless nights as we strive to be the best referees we can be.”

Just before James’s drive, Jaylen Brown made a layup to cut Los Angeles’s lead to 105-104. To the Lakers’ dismay, Patrick Beverley was whistled for a late foul for apparently making contact with Brown during his attempt. Davis told reporters that he felt Beverley hadn’t made contact with Brown, who converted his free throw to tie the score.

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Before the overtime period could begin, Beverley was assessed a technical foul for bringing a camera onto the court as he approached Lewis, ostensibly to provide evidence of the missed foul on James’s drive. As Beverley returned to the bench, he pointed at the camera and appeared to say, “Foul.”

Lewis said Beverley received the technical foul because “his actions were inappropriate in addressing resentment to a non-call.”

Tatum converted the free throw to give Boston a 106-105 lead when overtime commenced. Brown then scored 11 of his team-high 37 points in the extra period to lift the Celtics to the comeback victory.

“As much as we try not to put it on the officiating, it’s becoming increasingly difficult,” Lakers Coach Darvin Ham said to reporters. “It’s unfortunate that the game ends on a play like that. You don’t ask for favoritism. You just ask for consistency. … The best player on Earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Ham then suggested that the NBA should consider “[adding] a fourth official” to keep up with the increased speed of the game because “something’s got to change.”

James, who is closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, finished with a game-high 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 44 minutes. The four-time MVP sat on the bench with a towel over his head during the final possession of overtime.

Throughout this season, James has expressed dismay that he is averaging only 6.2 free throw attempts per game. During Saturday’s game, James attempted six free throws, Tatum attempted 12, and Brown attempted 11, prompting another bout of frustration.

“It’s challenging,” James said. “Very challenging. I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint just as much as any of the other guys in this league who are shooting double-digit free throws a night. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.”

Ham argued that James is being “penalized” because “he doesn’t flop or flail and he’s not screaming” during his shot attempts. The Lakers’ first-year coach also said that he wasn’t interested in reading the NBA’s “Last Two Minute Report,” which evaluates all late-game plays in close games, because the review process “does no one any good.”

“I saw the same thing with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and the same thing when I was a player in the [Shaquille O’Neal] era,” said Ham, who was a Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach before joining the Lakers. “Those guys who play physical and focus on finishing plays, sometimes it doesn’t go in their favor. Other guys you see whimpering on every shot and every time they get bumped they’re working on their head snap, and they’re the ones getting whistles.

“[James] is human at the end of the day, and it’s hard for him not to get discouraged. This is something that has been going on all year.”

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