Once again, an NBA official overreacted and called a flagrant because a tiny player hit a gigantic player and, by sheer laws of physics, bounce off of him and fell.
Shaq was given a flagrant 1 for his foul on Russell Westbrook back on November 17. Today, the league took it back.
O'Neal incurred his second flagrant 1 of the season for a hard foul on the Thunder's Russell Westbrook with 4:30 remaining in Oklahoma City's win at the Garden. O'Neal appeared to simply throw his hands in the air, but the force of impact with the driving Westbrook left referees assigning the harsher call (which generated two fouls shots and the ball). Westbrook made both free throws, giving the Thunder a six-point cushion and they held off a Boston charge to prevail, 89-84.
Would the right call have changed the outcome of the game? Maybe. And that's all we need to call for a closer look at the system. The Celtics may well have lost that game. They didn't play great and they deserved to lose… but they also put on a big late run and Delonte had a good look to tie the game with :05 left.
So who knows what would have transpired had Shaq been assessed a regular foul on the spot? The Celtics would have gotten the ball back after those two free throws… giving them precious time. Those two free throws were the only points OKC scored between 7:11 left int he quarter to :13 left in the quarter. The Celtics were down 83-74 at 7:11… and went on a 10-2 run to make it 85-84 with :13 left. But they would have had extra time to work with… extra time where who knows what could happen.
It was clearly a huge call. It was clearly a game-changing call. And all the Celtics get are a "oops, sorry."
That's not enough. In a conference race that might be separated by a single game… we could come back to this in March and wonder "what if?" I've said it before… and I'll say it again…. NBA refs need to be fined for rescinded flagrants. They need to know that flagrant fouls are potentially game-changing calls… and they need to be handed out appropriately. There is no excuse for a critical call to be rescinded after the fact when it could have been the difference between winning and losing.