MINNEAPOLIS — It hardly came as a surprise, but really, the decision did little more than acknowledge a bigger disadvantage than any one ejection for the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Tuesday morning, the NBA announced that it had officially downgraded J.J. Barea’s flagrant foul 2 from Monday night’s game to a flagrant foul 1. Coach Rick Adelman had predicted as much the night before, and Barea too was skeptical about the initial call after watching a replay. So Barea’s slate is wiped a bit cleaner, and a questionable call looks slightly less egregious, and that’s that.
The incident occurred with 8:09 remaining in the Timberwolves’ 97-81 loss to Miami, when Barea knocked Ray Allen to the ground, prompting what the Timberwolves deemed an overreaction from the Heat guard. The play was reviewed, and Barea was eventually ejected from the game, peppering his walk to the tunnel with some expletives that would cause anyone with even a rudimentary lip-reading ability to blush.
“It was not really that big of a deal, to react the way he reacted,” Barea said of Allen’s perceived overreaction. “I see hits harder than that every day in the NBA.”
At the time, the Heat had just a six-point lead, and the Timberwolves looked poised to narrow that gap despite having just nine healthy players and fewer than half as many wins to their name as Miami. But without Barea — and after two more questionable offensive foul calls on Minnesota — any hope at a comeback faded, and Miami got a win that should have been a foregone conclusion.
Having the foul downgraded saves Barea some money in fines, and it’s an implicit acknowledgment by the NBA that the Timberwolves point guard should not have been ejected from Monday’s game. That’s all well and good from a pride standpoint, but it doesn’t undo the momentum shift inherent in the disruption and ejection, and if you ask the Timberwolves, the incident is symptomatic of a larger trend in the NBA and in sports in general, in which calls are earned, and never by teams with the Timberwolves’ record.
“It’s just life in any sport, I think,” Adelman said Tuesday. “The team that’s confident and on a run, it seems like they get the benefit of the doubt. We have to develop a game where we’re winning games and you create an attitude about how you’re going to play.”
Rather than complain about what happened and any unfair treatment, both Adelman and Barea seemed resolved to simply game the system, to earn the right to have such calls go for them rather than against them. Playing tough has been a focus for the Timberwolves all season, and Barea said that the team needs to continue to work on it, especially next season when it’s restored to some level of health and has more than nine healthy players. And as to whether the Heat were unfairly bestowed with a gift in the form of the ejection, the point guard had some choice words.
“I think if Ray wouldn’t have reacted the way he reacted, it would have been a normal foul,” Barea said. “If he’d just stayed down and gone to the free throw line, nothing would have happened.”
On Tuesday, Adelman was more focused on the bigger issue than any individual grievance Barea might have had. The Timberwolves coach was called for a technical foul in the seconds after the referees reviewed the play and ejected Barea, and he said that – besides stomping his foot – the only thing he was saying at the time was that he’d like to know what went on in the review process to lead the refs to their conclusion. He’d just seen a flagrant foul 1 called against Jarrett Jack at the Target Center a week before for a foul that looked worse than Barea’s, and so the coach was naturally confused.
“What is the criteria here?” he asked. “What are you guys looking at when you go over there? We can’t go near it, so I don’t know what they’re looking at, but they obviously made a judgment, and it’s unfortunate.”
Ultimately, though, Adelman realizes the value of quibbling and wondering what could have been in such a situation is nil. He’s more concerned with his team developing an identity, with it realizing that it’s not going to get calls against teams like the Heat, at least not when it’s playing as shorthanded and poorly as it has been. What occurred on Monday is the product of a system — perhaps a flawed one, but a system nonetheless — and instead of whining to change it, Adelman wants his team to play up to it.
“Right now, we’re struggling,” Adelman said. “We’re really struggling, and I think it’s just that team’s won 15 in a row now. So … if they do get a break, there’s probably a reason for it. They’re pretty good. We have to fight through it. We have to as a player and a team, we have to play a style that’s consistent night after night.”
He’s been around long enough to know that’s really the only solution.