The NBL went back to the future on the weekend and it wasn’t a happy return in the eyes of the league’s best attacking players.
The league-mandated stronger stance on hand-checking and physical defensive play was thrown to the wolves and it resulted in lower scores and scrappier matches.
The Melbourne Tigers’ home clash against Sydney Kings was a prime example of the unexpected change with referees allowing players on both teams to be much more physical.
Scorers like Sam Young from Sydney and Chris Goulding from Melbourne certainly received more attention from defenses.
To make matters worse, the game was the NBL’s national free to air television game on Sunday.
Kings coach Shane Heal raised the issue post game making it clear he was making an observation and not criticising the match referees.
“I felt like it was refereed differently this match,” Heal said.
“You are not saying whether it was good or bad – it was different tonight and the scores replicated that.
“Both teams average scores in the 80s but tonight was a real physical game, much like it was last year.
“I felt like Sam should have shot a lot more free throws tonight, I thought [Ben] Madgen should have shot some free throws as well
“Chris [Anstey] would probably say the same of some of his guys.”
In the other three matches for the round, four of the six sides scored 80 points or more, showing how far off the pace the Tigers-Kings game was.
Heal said he supported the stricter foul calls but would now have to prepare his side for more physical matches.
“Everybody in the league had the belief they could stay within the vision of what they had done as far as allowing athletes to do what they do,” Heal said.
“I don’t mean making soft calls but making it so players could play off the dribble, that didn’t happen tonight – it was way different to any other game we have played this year.
“Whether right or wrong – whichever direction it is going we will adjust but the scores are going to replicate it – this game was 63-67, 38 per cent to 39 per cent from the field.”
With respected former NBL referee Mal Cooper taking charge of the officials, Heal said he was confident the league could keep faith with the new direction for the whole season but after this week will need to prepare his team for tougher games.
“I’ve been optimistic with Mal in charge that it would continue - they have said from the start to the end it will be called exactly the same, clearly that wasn’t the case today.
“That might not be from the league prospective, that may have been the three referees today calling it differently than what we had called in other games, I’m not sure.
“I support the vision the league has to make it more open.”
Over the remaining weeks of the season, we will see if the referees themselves still support that vision.