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BOSTON — The head referee in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 125-121 overtime loss to the Celtics on Saturday admitted there was a missed shooting foul by Jayson Tatum against LeBron James in the final seconds of regulation, leaving L.A. seething about another defeat tied to officiating.
The Lakers had a golden opportunity to knock off the league-leading Celtics when James drove to the hoop with the score tied with 4.0 seconds remaining. He got all the way to the basket when he attempted a left-handed layup and was smacked on the arm by Tatum, missing the shot just before time expired.
James immediately turned to the referee stationed along the baseline, grabbing his arm to indicate where the contact occurred. He hopped up and down, slapped the hardwood, held his hands on his head in disbelief and finally dropped to his knees in the paint and put his head down into his arms on the floor.
“There was contact,” crew chief Eric Lewis said to a pool reporter after the game. “At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”
The admission was the latest in what the Lakers see as a series of poor officiating in their games, bringing to mind recent losses to Dallas, Philadelphia and Sacramento when calls did not go in their favor.
“[Tatum] fouled him. He fouled him. Clearly. Clearly,” said Anthony Davis. “It’s bulls—. … It’s unacceptable. And I guarantee nothing is going to happen to the refs. We got cheated tonight, honestly. It’s a blatant foul. … It’s unacceptable, to be honest. The refs were bad. They were bad tonight.”
James, who came into the night sixth in the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game, averages 6.2 free throw attempts per game — the lowest number among any of the league’s top eight scorers.
“It’s challenging,” James said, after finishing with 41 points on 15-for-30 shooting. “I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.”
James attempted six free throws against the Celtics and L.A. shot 20 as a team. The Celtics nearly doubled that amount, going 34-for-39. He said the disappointing string of officiating makes it seem like his team is targeted.
“I watch basketball every single day,” he said. “I watch games every single day. And I don’t see it happening to nobody else. It’s just weird.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham, who normally is reticent to criticize the officiating, also could not deny the impact the refs had on the outcome Saturday.
“As much as you try not to put it on the officiating, it’s becoming increasingly difficult,” Ham said. “The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”
Ham asked for more consistency from the referees, pointing out how Jaylen Brown was awarded an and-1 free throw with the officials calling a foul on Patrick Beverley on the play before James’ last-second drive. He also said that James’ strength and physicality work against him.
“[He] plays a strong, physical brand of basketball and just because he doesn’t flop or he doesn’t fall or he’s not screaming when he’s shooting the ball, like I see a ton of other players doing, he gets penalized for it,” Ham said. “I saw the same thing with Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. I saw the same thing when I was a player in the Shaq [O’Neal] era. Those guys that play physical and really try to focus on finishing plays, sometimes it doesn’t go in their favor. But then you see other guys whimpering on every shot or every time they get bumped … and they are the ones getting the whistles.”
The disillusioned Lakers rattled off several adjustments that could be made to improve the officiating. Ham suggested having four officials, or changing the challenge rule where if a coach uses it and it is successful, the coach can use it again. Ham called for a challenge with 3:41 remaining in the fourth quarter when Davis was called for a foul on Tatum, with the Lakers leading 96-95. The challenge was successful and the call was overturned, however Ham didn’t have a challenge remaining to implement on the James layup attempt at the buzzer.
Davis called for more accountability from the officials.
“I guarantee that if the refs started getting fined for missed calls, it would be a lot better,” Davis said. “But nothing will be done.”
Lewis also called two technical fouls against the Lakers, one against Dennis Schroder in the third quarter for collapsing to the floor in response to being called for a foul against Tatum and Beverley at the start of OT for borrowing a camera from one of the courtside photographers to show digital evidence of Tatum making contact with James at the end of the fourth.
“His actions were inappropriate in addressing resentment to a non-call,” Lewis said of the Beverley tech in a pool report.
Boston outscored L.A. 8-2 in the first minute of overtime and didn’t look back, holding on for the win.
“You’re still thinking about that,” Davis said of the carryover effect of the missed call. “You’re not even supposed to be in that situation, to be honest. You’re not supposed to be playing overtime.”
The loss dropped the Lakers to 23-27, 13th in the Western Conference. If they had won the four recent games they disputed the officiating against Dallas, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Boston, a 27-23 record would put them at No. 4 in the West.
“It’s one of the best games we’ve played all year, and for it to fall on somebody else’s judgment or nonjudgment is ridiculous,” James said. “It’s ridiculous.”