The Houston Rockets have made it abundantly clear they feel they’ve gotten a raw deal from the officials — not only in their Game 1 loss to the Warriors on Sunday, but in their in last year’s Western Conference finals, and at least one league executive who spoke with CBS Sports believes .
Perhaps a few of those whistles will go against Stephen Curry, who, according to the NBA‘s Last Two Minute Report, for his sixth foul on two separate occasions in Game 1, but slipped by with a non-call each time and stayed in the game long enough to hit a dagger 3-pointer to give Golden State its eventual four-point margin of victory with 24 seconds to play.
Curry has been in foul trouble all playoffs and it has been a recurring theme at different points over this entire Warriors five-year run. And now the news comes out on Tuesday that Scott Foster is part of the officiating crew for Tuesday’s Game 2 (10:30 p.m. ET — watch on fuboTV). The Rockets have gone on record with their complaints about Foster, and went so far as to say he shouldn’t be able to officiate their games because of a perceived bias against them. However, the Warriors have had their troubles with him, too.
In fact, pretty much everyone in the NBA has had an issue with Foster at one point or another. In 2016, the Los Angeles Times conducted an anonymous survey in which it polled nearly three dozen players and coaches asking them who the best and worst referees were. Foster was voted the worst by a wide margin. Among other incidents, Foster ejected both Shaun Livingston and Curry from Game 6 of the 2016 Finals. Curry fouled out of that game before he was tossed for chucking his mouthpiece into the stands.
But this isn’t a Foster problem. It’s a Curry problem.
“He’s so competitive on the defensive end, which you love, but sometimes that works against him,” a league scout told CBS Sports. “He’s got to keep his hands to himself. [Steve] Kerr has talked about that a lot. Obviously they can’t have him going to the bench for long windows.”
Kerr makes jokes, but this is no laughing matter. Curry is obviously vital to everything the Warriors do and he has to stay on the floor for his normal rotations. To the scout’s point, Curry definitely tries to make up for a size and strength deficit against many of the guys he ends up guarding by reaching for steals and slapping down for strips. The bigger problem is he hasn’t really shown a consistent ability to curb those urges when he’s in foul trouble. Curry plays a lot of his minutes one foul away from having to come out of the game, and in those situations he doesn’t really temper his aggression.
The Rockets know this, and they single him out in isolations with James harden and Chris Paul. Guarding those guys, it’s only a matter of time until you get whistled. Still, Curry keeps battling. Kerr believes that’s part of what makes Curry great on the offensive end, too, that ability to just go for it and not overthink, but there’s clearly a middle ground he needs to find. He’s trying. Kerr told reporters Curry wrote a reminder on his shoes: On one he wrote the world “No” and on the other one “Reach.”
Curry totaled 17 fouls through the first four games of Golden State’s first-round series vs. the Clippers, and never committed fewer than four. It’s not actually fouling out that’s the problem, it’s the having to guard against fouling by sitting out for long stretches. Here’s how the foul breakdown has affected Curry and the Warriors so far in the playoffs:
- In the Game 2 meltdown against the Clippers in which the Warriors blew a 31-point lead to lose the game, Curry picked up his third and fourth fouls in less than a two-minute span and was pulled from the game at the 8:39 mark in the third quarter. At the point, Golden State was leading the Clippers by 28. By the time the fourth quarter started, the lead had been trimmed to 14.
- In Game 3 against the Clippers, Curry picked up two first-quarter fouls and Kerr trusted him to stay in the game. He committed his third with 3:45 left in the second and sat the rest of the half. He then lasted less than four minutes into the third quarter before he picked up his fourth at the 8:46 mark, and he sat the rest of the third. Less than two minutes into the fourth, he had his fifth. He was subbed out at the 9:09 mark, but fortunately the Warriors had a big lead and didn’t blow it this time. Curry never had to return.
- In Game 4 against the Clippers, Curry once again couldn’t last his first full shift after he committed his second foul with just under six minutes left in the first quarter and was yanked at the 4:44 mark. He avoided foul trouble the rest of the way, but again, this is about rhythm and not being able to play completely freely, even on the offensive end in terms of attacking the basket. Curry finished Game 4 a paltry 1 for 9 from deep.
- In Game 1 against the Rockets, Curry totaled five fouls and the league, in its the following day, said he should’ve been whistled for two more fouls in the closing minutes, which would have fouled him out of the game. He got his fourth foul at the 4:34 mark of the third and missed the rest of the quarter. He got his fifth foul at the 8:12 mark of the fourth and sat for a minute and a half. That breaks rhythm, and in that short time, the Warriors’ lead also went from six points to two points.