The Sydney Kings shook off an embarrassing loss in their semi-final series against Melbourne United to book their place in the NBL Finals, but a constant bugbear for fans reared its head once again.
Kings stars Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Lisch were the main drivers behind their thrilling 88-86 win over United, earning Sydney their first grand final spot in 12 years.
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As has frequently been the case for the NBL this season though, the officiating came under heavy criticism.
Fans took to social media throughout the match to cast judgement on what was deemed to be an ‘appalling’ performance from the referees.
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman took aim at the officiating crew after the game, after being on the wrong end of a 27-15 foul count.
“Overall this year, to say the interaction with referees, off-court or in meetings — it wasn’t good enough,” Vickerman said in his post-game press conference.
“So we didn’t start the right way, and I think we saw that halfway through the year, we’re still trying to work things out.
“We’ve just got to be better as a league to say ‘we want video examples, we want to see exactly how it’s going to be played, we want to debate things at the start of the year.”
Vickerman said the NBL desperately needed to discover it’s ‘identity’ insofar as how the general refereeing philosophy could be communicated to clubs, fans, and potential recruits.
“We’ve got to work together in a better way, and I think we’ve still got to find the true identity of this league, how we want it to look and how we want it to be (in terms of) officiating,” he said.
“I think that has to happen very quickly this year, so we have the ability to recruit, and understand this is the style of play we can put on the floor next year.”
NBL fans unhappy with referees on social media
Twitter lit up with complaints about the officiating on Thursday night.
Melbourne were whistled for 12 more fouls than Sydney, leading to the Kings shooting 25 free throws to United’s 11 - although Sydney’s poor shooting from the stripe limited the damage done.
Nevertheless, fans were far from impressed with that they saw from the officials.
Three different people (first or second-time NBL viewers) messaged me during that game. All of them asked about the officiating. It's embarrassing for the league; it shouldn't be the story, but it is. It's been an issue for years, and nothing. I don't know, guys.— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) March 5, 2020
God. This officiating makes the game so painful to watch. Stop calling bulls**t and let them play! #NBL20— Derek Rucker (@derekrucker5) March 5, 2020
1) Credit to the Kings for bouncing back from game 2. Massive effort.— Greg Davis (@GregDavis_cmail) March 5, 2020
2) Cooks was awesome for Kings. Can see why he was picked for Boomers for WC.
3) Given MU copped some truly appalling refereeing, maybe something will finally be done about the biggest issue in comp. #NBL20
With United ahead by one with just over two minutes to play, Kevin Lisch drilled a three-pointer and Jae'Sean Tate followed up with a basket to put the Kings up 89-85.
The minor premiers then held firm at the defensive end to earn their chance at a fourth title in franchise history.
The tight finish made for a fitting end to a drama-packed series after United recovered from a shocking collapse in the opening game to smack the Kings by a record margin in game two.
Chris Goulding fired in 19 points in the first half, drilling four triples in the second quarter alone as United built a 50-45 halftime lead.
But the Kings took advantage of United's foul trouble with a 10-0 run near the end of the third term before withstanding United's fourth-quarter challenge.
Tate scored 20 points and Casper Ware added 15 while Xavier Cooks (14 points, nine rebounds) impacted the game at both ends of the floor.
Goulding was held scoreless in the second half but still finished as United's leading scorer with Mitch McCarron tallying 18 points and import duo Melo Trimble and Shawn Long each adding 17.
Sydney now awaits the outcome of tonight's Perth-Cairns semi-final decider to see who they face in the championship round.