It’s said that one of the biggest adjustments for young teams in the postseason has to do with the way the game is officiated. The argument goes that referees allow a more physical style of play once the playoffs start. Let the players decide the game. That's "playoff basketball."
Sounds plausible, but is it really the case?
The numbers are a mixed bag. During the regular season, Portland averaged 20.4 fouls per game as a team, while their opponents averaged 21.1 fouls. But in the first three games of the series, the Trail Blazers are averaging 24.7 fouls per game, a significant jump from the regular season.
And it cuts both ways. The Rockets averaged 18.9 fouls per game in the regular season, but are averaging 21.7 fouls per in the first round series.
But the averages tell a different story when looking at the regular season series between the Trail Blazers and Rockets. In their three previous meetings, the Trail Blazers averaged 24 fouls per game, right in line with their average in the playoffs. Same goes for the Rockets, who averaged 22 fouls a game in the regular season series. Those numbers don’t exactly bear out the notion that the refs let more slide in the playoffs, but at least it doesn’t show they’re blowing the whistle more often.
Numbers can only tell you so much, and in this case, it’s hard to know if the numbers say anything.
Joel Przybilla, however, does have an opinion on the subject, and an informed opinion at that.
“They’re letting some stuff go,” said Przybilla of the officiating in the first three games of the series. “It always seem like the teams that have won are the teams that get away with more stuff. You look at the tape, (from Game 3) and they were just beating us up.”
Not that he’s complaining. According to Przybilla, the officiating isn’t necessarily favoring Houston, just the more aggressive team.
“When we won Game 2 we were very physical with them,” said Przybilla. “They let a lot of stuff go. I’m telling you, it’s a lot more physical. They’re letting a lot more slide. Bigs have been in foul trouble because when we’re playing against Yao, you’re going to get in foul trouble.
“It’s a lot more physical. It could be the fact that they’re a physical team. But they’re letting us get away with a lot more stuff.”