OAKLAND — After navigating a maze of reporters and cameras, settling into a chair behind the makeshift podium Monday afternoon, Warriors coach Steve Kerr immediately mocked the Houston Rockets’ overt baiting of officials.
Kerr slid off the chair and flopped into a reporter, arms flailing.
“Jeeze, I was fouled,” he said, keeping a straight face for all of about three seconds.
Kerr was, in his own way, making light of serious allegations made by the Rockets after Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday. The moment was funny and unsubtle and wholly illustrative of the conversation that has hijacked the early portion of the series.
The Rockets believe they are being cheated by NBA officials, claiming that the failure of referees to call fouls in their favor occurred last May in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors and that, 11 months later, they are still victims of inequality.
“Referees likely changed the eventual NBA champion,” says a memo prepared last summer by the Rockets, according to ESPN.
“All I want is a fair chance,” Rockets superstar James Harden said after Game 1.
The Rockets are literally blaming the referees.
The Warriors, even while citing Houston’s shoving and clutching of Kevin Durant, indicated bad calls and non-calls are part of the game.
“You don't think there were 10 calls that we thought we got fouled? This is how it goes,” Kerr said. “And every coach in the league will tell you the same thing – you watch the tape and you go, ‘That's a foul, that's a foul.’
“It's the nature of the game. It's very, very difficult to officiate an NBA game.”
The Rockets in Game 1 shot 29 free throws, two more than the Warriors, who were whistled for 24 fouls to Houston’s 21. Harden took 14 free throws, one fewer than Warriors leader Kevin Durant. Four technical fouls were assessed, with one going to Houston coach Mike D’Antoni and two on Chris Paul, with the second resulting in ejection with 4.4 seconds remaining. Draymond Green was the only Warriors slapped with a T.
Yet the Rockets continued their campaign of blame.
“If we really wanted to exhaust our energy on that, we could clip together 10 to 15 plays where it didn't go our way,” Stephen Curry said. “Me taking a 3, somebody coming underneath me, two hands on drives, all that type of stuff.
“But we understand in the playoffs, the way the game is called, it's a little bit more physical. And whether you're trying to get fouls on every possession or not, like it's going to be 50/50 calls. And it's just how it is.”
The irony – as several members of the Warriors have pointed out – is that Harden, a proven flopper and the man who has led the NBA in free throws five consecutive seasons, is the leading spokesperson.
“We understand tendencies and things like that and knowing we put ourselves in that position,” Curry said. “But the biggest one that happened in the fourth quarter, the fourth quarter with Draymond, that it wasn't called, it was accurate in terms of James closing the space on Draymond.”
Asked if he thought the Rockets were trying to influence calls, Curry indicated they were.
“But it sucks that that is the narrative coming out of it,” he said.
The tension between players and officials in the regular season may have been an all-time high. The playoffs, with a higher level of intensity, is even more fertile ground for incessant griping.
But claiming injustice after games, putting together videos against a specific team and taking the case to the NBA suggests the Rockets are, as general manager Darryl Morey has acknowledged, “obsessed” with the Warriors.
The obsession continues Tuesday night when the teams meet for Game 2, in which the Warriors believe officials will not be subject to Houston’s lobbying.
“I don't think there will be any result,” Kerr said. “The referees do their job. People lobby the league all the time. This was a very public way of doing it. But people send in clips of a previous game. There's kind of a process where if you have a complaint you complain to the league.
“So it's rarely done this publicly, but the refs are going to do their job. As I said, did they miss some calls for Houston? Absolutely. They missed some for us, too.”
“I don't know, I've been part of six teams as a player and now two as an executive or coach,” he added. "And all eight of those teams have gotten screwed by the refs – all eight of them.”
That expression of shared persecution complex among NBA teams broke up the room, perhaps because the truth of it further mocks Houston’s quest.