David Fizdale was hot Monday night. After the Spurs held off a spirited comeback by the Grizzlies to win Game 2 -- Memphis cut a 26-point second-quarter deficit to four in the fourth -- Fizdale tore into the officiating. Fizdale, a first-year NBA coach, dissected the stats in a relatively calm manner before dialing up the emotion and ending his monologue with the now-iconic phrase, "Take that for data!"
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 18, 2017
We pick things up for a line-by-line interpretation after Fizdale was asked about how the importance of his team's comeback effort.
"It's unfortunate that I got a guy like Mike Conley, who in his whole career, has zero technical fouls and just cannot seem to get the proper respect from the officials that he deserves."
Fizdale shows indirectly that he keeps up with the news. Last Thursday, Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal published a piece on Conley titled, "The NBA Player Who Is Technically Perfect." Fizdale is tossing Cohen some valuable Google traffic while defending one of his stars, who also happens to be the game's highest-paid player with a five-year, $153 million contract (more on that below).
In his 10-year career, Conley has averaged 14.2 points, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals, but he has never made an All-Star Game. In 2016-17, he put up a career-best 20.5 points per game, but his name is rarely included in conversations about the best point guards in the NBA. He has won two NBA Sportsmanship Awards, but he has only been to the Western Conference Finals once (which is more than Chris Paul). in Fizdale's mind, as one of the NBA's less marketable stars, Conley gets hacked all over the court because officials feel a lack of pressure to make calls in his favor. (For the record, Conley did get a technical in 2014, but it was rescinded after the game.)
"It was a very poorly-officiated basketball game. Zach Randolph, the most rugged guy in the game, had zero free throws, but somehow Kawhi Leonard had 19 free throws."
The 35-year-old Randolph has been pulverizing opposing big men since Tom Izzo groomed him at Michigan State. A lefty with traditional post moves foreign to the game's younger players, Randolph has been among the best at getting to the foul line during his 16 NBA seasons. At his peak in 2009-10, Randolph's 465 free-throw attempts were 14th in the league.
Fizdale cannot understand how Randolph could have gone a whole game, playing his style, without going to the free-throw line. This is especially concerning to Fizdale, because Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard went to the line 19 times (and made all 19 free throws). Randolph played 36 minutes and Leonard 40 minutes. Randolph shot 18 times and Leonard 14 times. (It turns out Fizdale had more stats he could have used).
Fizdale is choosing to ignore the fact Leonard has an enormous wingspan, is in his prime and averaged 7.2 free throws per game. Randolph averaged just 2.6 free throws per game this season. But Fizdale wants everyone to know Randolph is still a bruising tank who is working the postseason trenches.
"First half, we shot 19 shots in the paint and we had six free throws. They shot 11 times in the paint and they had 23 free throws. I'm not a numbers guy, but that doesn't seem to add up."
Fizdale is using probability here. Fouls are more common in the paint because the offensive team has a better chance to score in this area (players are closer to the rim and usually on the move). Fizdale notes that although the Grizzlies took significantly more shots in the paint, this did not produce more free throws. Monday night's game could certainly be an exception to this logic, but Fizdale would like to see a proof.
"Overall, 35 times we shot the ball in the paint, we had 15 free throws in the game. They shot 18 times in the paint and had 32 free throws. Kawhi shot more free throws than our team. Explain it to me."
Again, this comes back to probability. Fizdale has now extended his sample size to include the entire game. Even when Fizdale incorporates this new data, the numbers have not regressed to the mean. Fizdale believes an outside variable -- the officials -- may have contributed to this and specifically cites Leonard's stats.
"We don't get the respect that these guys deserve because Mike Conley doesn't go crazy. He has class and he just plays the game, but I'm not gonna let them treat us that way."
Fizdale is circling this back to Conley, the team's most notable player (three-time All-Star Marc Gasol is probably the Grizzlies' best player). Memphis has been under fire all season for giving Conley such a mega-contract. Seeing as Conley won't defend himself on the court and the Grizzlies are too nice of a team to protect him against mistreatment by the media and officials, Fizdale is stepping in to be the enforcer. He is tired of everyone stomping all over Conley. Forget the stats, forget the money, Fizdale is taking a stand.
This is a terrible time for Tony Allen to be injured.
"I know Pop's got pedigree and I'm a young rookie, but they not gonna rook us. That's unacceptable. That was unprofessional. My guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game and they did not even give us a chance."
Yeah, Fizdale went there. He brought Gregg Popovich into this. He mentioned Pop's "pedigree," which is another way to say, "With all due respect." Popovich has won five NBA titles in six trips to the Finals, and he has been NBA Coach of the Year three times. He ranks seventh in regular-season wins (1,150), third in postseason wins (158) and fourth in all-time winning percentage (.694).
But Fizdale doesn't care about all that. He believes the NBA should not tilt its calls toward a veteran coach, and he suggests that officials give Popovich more calls than they give to him. Fizdale, 42, became a head coach this year for the first time after 13 seasons as an NBA assistant. He demands the respect of the referees and calls them out for, in his mind, failing to do their job in Monday night's game. He believes the Grizzlies played well enough, to the naked eye, to compete, but the officials hindered them.
The officials may not have helped the Grizzlies, but let's remember the Spurs are a considerably better team. On the season, Memphis won 43 games, while the Spurs won 61.
"Take that for data!" (TABLE SLAM)
Fizdale is putting the exclamation mark on his moment. How many casual NBA fans knew who Fizdale was before Monday night? How many people still thought Dave Joerger was coaching the Grizzlies? Before this rant, he answered the previous question by saying he would analyze certain lineups after cooling off. He then proceeded to go rogue while still hot.
Before getting up from the table, Fizdale clearly gathers himself, looking for a phrase to dramatically end his monologue. He has already said he is not a math guy, but he has used a handful of statistics to make his case. He comes up with a few words to sum up his argument while slightly mocking NBA analytics.
And that table slam. This is "How to Make a Dramatic Exit 101" and it's awesome. Fizdale, one of the nicest guys in the league, who coaches one of its gentlest teams, wants to leave a fiery image on his way out. He clearly has felt semi-uncomfortable with this entire rant, but he is sticking out his neck to protect his team. He's like the smart kid in class who feels uncomfortable presenting in front of the class and would rather have one of the showier kids present their group project. He's Richard Hendricks trying to present Pied Piper without Ehrlich Bachman. But Fizdale is in deep, so he just goes for it all.
Thank you, Fiz. This is an amazing moment. When you have five NBA titles 20 years from now, we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny.