Hopefully Refs Swallowing Whistles in Celtics-Bucks Was a Playoff Preview

For the first time in history, an NBA team did not attempt a free throw

Giannis Antetokounmpo is defended by Jayson Tatum.
The refs really let Giannis and the Bucks play against Tatum and the C's.
Stacy Revere/Getty

As the record-setting 14.2 million viewers who tuned in to watch Iowa’s 71-69 win against UConn in Friday’s NCAA Final Four game can attest, a controversial late foul call can taint an otherwise enjoyable evening of basketball. Whether or not you think the foul that was called on Aaliyah Edwards as she was setting up a screen with UConn trailing by a single point with 3.9 seconds remaining was legit or not, there’s no arguing the whistle robbed the game, and maybe the Huskies, of the chance of having a climatic ending. Iowa probably deserved to win, but not that way.

For those who were left with a sour taste in their mouths by the end of Iowa-UConn, Tuesday’s nights game between the Celtics and Bucks in Milwaukee would have been a pretty sweet watch as the referees basically put their whistles away and called almost no fouls in what was hopefully a preview of how the upcoming NBA playoffs will be officiated.

In 48 minutes of basketball, just 12 total fouls were called on both teams. Amazingly, just one of those fouls resulted in a trip to the line as Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo shot the only two free throws of the game, making one, with 19 seconds left in the first quarter. With zero attempts or makes at the charity stripe in the 104-91 loss, the Celtics became the first team in NBA history not to shoot at least one free throw in a game. The Bucks were called for a shooting foul, but it didn’t result in shots after being overturned due to a challenge. The two combined FT attempts between the two teams shattered the previous record of 11, which was set when Indiana shot five and Orlando had six in a November 2019 game.

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“I thought it was a physical game, and then they handed me the stat sheet, and I told them, ‘No, I need the full game,’” said Bucks coach Doc Rivers. “I thought it was the halftime stats. I didn’t look at the minutes. And then I said, ‘Wow, two free throws for a basketball game. That’s crazy.’”

In the opposing locker room after the game, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said he “didn’t know what was going on” with the lack of foul calls, according to The Boston Globe. Eighth in the league this season in free-throw attempts, Celtics star Jayson Tatum had a theory. “Another day in the NBA,” he said. “Maybe just gearing up for the playoffs. They’re going to let a lot of things go, I guess just getting us ready for playoff basketball.”

It would be great if Tatum is right as no one wants to see playoff games decided by the parade of free-throw attempts that commonly occur at the end of regulation in the NBA. It’s boring to watch and, perhaps just as importantly, can add an extra 20 or 30 minutes to a game that should be over in about two hours. Some might not like it, but anyone who didn’t like the ending of Iowa-UConn should have no problem with referees calling virtually no fouls in the NBA playoffs.

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