MANILA, Philippines—Basketball coaches rarely praise referees, and if they do, they do so in sarcastic fashion.
But after Alaska and Meralco’s entertaining PBA Philippine Cup game on Wednesday, the officiating was praised by not just one, but both coaches.
Alaska hacked out a 103-98 victory over the Bolts for their first win of the all-Filipino tournament. The game was marked by some hard fouls, and Calvin Abueva and Jared Dillinger got tangled up along the baseline in the third quarter, but they were only called for double technicals and no player got tossed.
Towards the end of the game, Dillinger was initially called for a deliberate foul, but after a quick review, referees downgraded it to a regular foul almost immediately.
For the coaches, it was a relief to see that the officials were letting the players play, as opposed to calling every ticky-tack foul that occurred in the game.
“Not because of our win, but I think that I like the direction the league is going in with officiating. I think we lost the free throw battle, so that’s not because we got favored or something like that,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton.
“Naririnig ko sa mga ibang fans . . . the physicality is good,” he added. “It’s good for the game. It’s real men going at it.”
Norman Black has also observed that officials are calling games “a little differently now.”
“They’re allowing a little bit more contact – or a lot more contact on the court, so we’re going to have to do a better job of adjusting to it,” said the Meralco coach.
This adjustment, said Black, will start in practice. Before, they also used to whistle for every foul, as that was the way it went during actual games.
“We have to make adjustments in practice so we can be a little bit more physical,” he said.
Make no mistake, however. Black is not in any way complaining about the increased physicality of the game.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m an old-school guy, so you can imagine. No harm, no foul.”
There were a combined 56 fouls called on Wednesday’s game, but that number may be a bit inflated as the Bolts resorted to deliberate fouling in the final five minutes in an effort to rally from a fourth quarter deficit.
The adjustment in officiating appears to be no coincidence. Willie Marcial, the officer-in-charge of the PBA while the league searches for a new commissioner, has made officiating one of his priorities.
“We want to let the players play,” he said, as quoted by Quinito Henson in a recent interview. “We want to bring back what we call gulang, or abilidad of our players. We don’t want to discourage displays of emotion. We want emotions to flow.”
Marcial confirmed in the same interview that they want to allow “a little more physicality,” which involves letting go of “incidental or light contact.”
“We know basketball is a contact sport, so we won’t be able to take out the physical nature of the game,” he said. “However, we will not tolerate rough or dirty play.”
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)