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Is Paul George Right? Do the Heat Get Preferential Treatment From Officials?

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Paul George suggested the Heat got some

With a Game 4 win, the Miami Heat have taken a significant lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Indiana Pacers, who now trail three games to one.

After the third straight loss in the series for the Pacers, All-Star small forward Paul George suggested that the Heat earned preferential treatment from officials in Game 4 after the Heat attempted 34 free throws to the Pacers' 17.

Placing blame on unfair officiating is typically reserved for fans, but George felt strongly enough about the one-sided whistles to risk a fine for his comment.

I decided to see if George's claims were warranted - not in the sense of questionable calls in a singular game, but rather the tangible volume of fouls both committed by and drawn by the Heat throughout the playoffs. After all, the Heat are back-to-back champions, and home teams do tend to get favorable calls. But just how much of an advantage does Miami receive on a per-game basis?

Let's take a look at each Heat series so far in the playoffs.

Heat vs. Bobcats

It feels like ages ago when the collective basketball world cringed at Al Jefferson's foot injury, limiting the slim chance the Charlotte Bobcats had against the Heat. But in terms of the task at hand (examining foul and free throw differentials for the Heat), this series is quite telling.

TeamHome Fouls DrawnAway Fouls DrawnHome DifferentialTotal Fouls Drawn
Heat19.5021.00+3.0020.25
Bobcats23.0016.50+2.0019.75

In terms of foul calls, the home team averaged more drawn fouls than the road team, three for the Heat and two for the Bobcats. This isn't surprising in itself, but the numbers do show an elevated number of fouls for both teams when the games were in Charlotte.

Over four games, the Heat averaged just half of a drawn foul more per game than the Bobcats, which is by no means glaringly preferential for the two-time defending champions. This trend, naturally, carries over to the amount of free throw attempts in the first-round series as well.

TeamHome FT AttemptsAway FT AttemptsHome DifferentialTotal FT Attempts
Heat27.5024.50+12.0026.00
Bobcats31.5015.50+7.0023.50

In Charlotte, free throw attempts were elevated on a per-game basis, but the Bobcats experienced a drastic differential in free throw attempts between their home and road games. The Bobcats attempted 63 free throws during the two games played in Charlotte.

The Heat, on the other hand, didn't face such a disparagement between home attempts and road attempts and faced an average deficit of seven free throw attempts in their two games in Charlotte. While the gap wasn't as large as the 12 attempts they received in Miami, it does show favor for the home teams - regardless if it's the back-to-back champs or the Bobcats.

During the regular season, the Bobcats averaged 24.4 free throw attempts per game overall and 24.6 at home. The Heat attempted 23.0 overall and 23.5 at home. Miami did experience a small uptick in free throw attempts across the board, while the Bobcats were one attempt shy of their season average.

Heat vs. Nets

The Nets series was spectacularly underwhelming in terms of excitement, as the regular season sweep of the Heat by the Nets resulted in only one victory for Brooklyn. But the foul trends from this series are quite interesting.

TeamHome Fouls DrawnAway Fouls DrawnHome DifferentialTotal Fouls Drawn
Heat18.0022.50+2.3319.80
Nets21.5015.67-1.0018.00

Nets fans may not be surprised by this, but the Heat did receive more foul calls than the Nets both in Miami and in Brooklyn. The elevated number of fouls committed by Brooklyn, though, was minimal (just one foul per game).

TeamHome FT AttemptsAway FT AttemptsHome DifferentialTotal FT Attempts
Heat21.6726.00+6.3423.40
Nets22.5015.33-3.5018.20

Just like with foul calls, the Heat fared better with free throw attempts in Brooklyn than did the Nets themselves, but in the Nets' Game 3 win over the Heat, they attempted only 17 free throws. Miami attempted 25.

The Nets averaged 23.8 trips to the stripe on the road this regular season, but, as was the case with the Bobcats, failed to reach this mark in their series with the Heat. Conversely, the Heat averaged more attempts in their two games in Brooklyn than the regular season average.

Heat vs. Pacers

This series is the most intriguing of the bunch because of George's criticism of the officiating. It's also the one least like the others because the Heat don't have quite the advantage that they did in the first two series.

TeamHome Fouls DrawnAway Fouls DrawnHome DifferentialTotal Fouls Drawn
Heat24.5015.50+4.0020.00
Pacers21.5020.50+6.0021.00

So far in the series, both home teams have experienced a preferable foul differential, but this is the first instance in the playoffs that the Heat haven't held the larger advantage in foul calls during home games. The Pacers have averaged six more drawn fouls than the Heat when the games have been in Indiana. All in all, the Pacers have gotten more whistles than the Heat so far in the series. Unsurprisingly, this translates into an advantage in free throw attempts.

TeamHome FT AttemptsAway FT AttemptsHome DifferentialTotal FT Attempts
Heat27.0016.50+6.0021.75
Pacers26.0021.00+9.5023.50

In Games 1 and 2 in Indiana, the Pacers tallied, on average, 9.5 more free throw attempts than did the Heat. After four games, the Pacers still have attempted more free throws (94) than the Heat (87), even after the Heat doubled up the attempts in Game 4 (34 to 17). What's most surprising about this problematic Game 4 tally is that it's not even the biggest free throw differential in the series.

That honor belongs to Game 1, a game in which the Pacers attempted 37 free throws at home and Miami attempted only 15.

Indiana averaged 22.8 free throws on the road and 23.7 at home during the regular season. While they haven't achieved their 22.8 on the road, they have experienced 2.3 more attempts in their two home games against the Heat than they averaged in the regular season.

The Final Four

The Heat were below average in attempts during the regular season, ranking 17th in the league with 23.0 attempts per game. They have, however, seen an upward trend in attempts in the postseason (23.7 per game). Before assuming this small increase is a benefit from winning titles and having superstars, let's examine the home attempts for the final four teams in both the regular season and postseason as well as the differential these teams had over opponents while playing home games.

TeamSeason Home FTADifferentialPlayoff Home FTADifferentialPlayoff/Season Differential
Heat23.5+1.224.9+3.4+1.4
Pacers23.7+2.124.3+1.8+0.6
Spurs19.5-1.122.9+2.3+3.4
Thunder25.7+0.327.7+3.8+2.0

The Heat do attempt more free throws per game at home in the playoffs than in the regular season, but so do the Spurs and Thunder. In fact, the increased gap in home attempts for the Heat (1.4) is less significant than the advantage the Spurs have had this post season (3.4) and the Thunder (2.0).

In terms of increased differentials, the Heat's gap over visitors grew by 2.2 attempts per game. The Thunder's grew by 3.5, and the Spurs grew by 3.4. Of the four teams left, only the Pacers, who had the best home differential in the regular season of the group, had a smaller differential in home attempts in the playoffs than in the regular season.

This could indicate that the homecourt advantage is less, well, advantageous for the Pacers than it is for the more accomplished teams, but each team has attempted more free throws at home in the post season than they did in the regular season, coinciding with the assumption that games are played more aggressively in the playoffs.

Each remaining team is experiencing more attempts at home than their opponents, which shouldn't surprise anyone, but it doesn't look like the Heat are experiencing any more home cooking than the Thunder or Spurs (or even the Pacers in this series).

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In This Article

Al Jefferson
FC, Charlotte Hornets

Paul George
GF, Indiana Pacers

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