NBA officiating was at its worst in Game 4, and that’s a huge problem

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) holds back Stephen Curry (30) from referee John Goble (30) in the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers of Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals in Cleveland, Friday, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

The Golden State Warriors had no claim to win Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers turned in a near-impeccable offensive first half and a stellar overall game to stave off a sweep and force a Game 5 Monday in Oakland.

Not to take away from the Cavaliers’ stupendous performance, but the big story of Game 4 wasn’t the incredible offense — it was the terrible officiating.

The NBA Finals is a meeting of the best of the best, and the refs should be no different. On Friday, the NBA did not put out the best of the best.

Mike Callahan, Marc Davis, and John Goble (making his first NBA Finals appearance) were unable to control a game that, after Cleveland’s great start, was constantly teetering on being wholly out of control.

Somehow, the Warriors’ first-half defense wasn’t the worst thing on the court Friday.

And the NBA can’t let something like that happen again.

There were too many moments of poor officiating to count in Game 4. It was so bad that both teams’ fan bases were claiming conspiracy against them.

What else could Cavs fans believe?

What else could Warriors fans believe?

The referees were actors in a comedy of errors. So many errors. But worse yet was the inconsistency of those errors. Every call seemed arbitrary.

Like when Kevin Love, trying to block a Kevin Durant shot, hit the Warriors star in the head and it was called a flagrant foul — one of the weakest you’ll ever see.

That was bad.

But when Zaza Pachulia punched Iman Shumpert near the groin (perhaps it was a direct shot) in a scrum during the third quarter, there was no flagrant foul called — despite the referees going to the monitor.

That was worse.

And yet it wasn’t the biggest blemish of the crew’s night.

Would you believe me if I said it had to do with Draymond Green?

Green was assessed a technical foul in the first half for complaining about a call. That’s how the official scorers, the broadcasters, viewing public, and both teams understood it, at least.

But in the second half, when Green was hit with a second technical foul (again for complaining about a call), he wasn’t ejected from the game.

The referees claimed — this was unknown to the official scorers, per the ABC broadcast — that Green’s first-half technical foul actually was assessed to Steve Kerr.

That also was news to Kerr, though he didn’t mind and joked after the game “I thought I deserved it.”

Green didn’t make an impact on the game in the fourth quarter, but with the Warriors being the Warriors, it was easy to see a circumstance in which he could have been a big part of turning the game around — or even into their favor.

Would the refs’ explanation that “No, no, no, that was Kerr’s tech, we just didn’t tell anyone until now” have stood up then?

Unlikely.

Late, ticky-tack, and sometimes undeserved whistles were the soundtrack of Game 4. It’s hard to say if the Warriors or Cavs were more hindered by the poor officiating, though Warriors fans certainly will complain about Cleveland shooting 26 free throws Friday.

But the viewing public’s experience? That was clearly hindered.

Being a referee is a thankless job — it has to take something extraordinary to get me to call them out — but Game 4 was an extraordinarily bad referee performance.

If it was a game between the Bucks and Pelicans in November, it would be a problem. It’s a crisis when it happens in a close-out game in the NBA Finals.

It was a black eye on the league, and one that cannot happen again in this or any series.