My first reaction to the referee's travel call on LeBron James was to turn to my brother and my cousin, give awkward high-fives and annoying repeat the phrase "They called a travel!" Partially because I couldn't believe it, partially because I wanted to rile up the Cleveland fans in front of me (okay, mostly the first one).
I won't lie, I didn't exactly come down from that high for a good 15-20 minutes. The game was so confounding, so nerve-racking, and in the end, the most unexpected call allowed the Wizards to hang on. It was definitely a little overwhelming being in attendance.
But once I did calm down, I couldn't help but come back to the reverse-credo that every point at any juncture in the game is worth the same. For 42 minutes, the Wizards dominated the Cavaliers. They were crisper, sharper offensively, more fundamentally-sound on the glass, whatever you want to call it. Six minutes, no matter how bad, rarely erase that. And even when it does, when you do everything possible to throw away the game, funny things happen that decide the outcome. For example, Delonte West missing that wide-open three from about the same spot he hit the dagger in Game 4 last year.
Most importantly, I have to go back to that travel. It was a travel, make no mistake. LeBron wants to justify it as a crow hop, which conveniently ignores that he took a full step before making his hop, then took at least one and a half more after making the hop. But was that travel so much more egregious that the ones that supposedly were uncalled in the playoffs? Was it much more egregious that this one? Yet this time, the travel was called and a comeback attempt was thwarted. That's all it took. That's all it often takes sometimes to win a close game. You can play so badly down the stretch and still come away with a win thanks to one somewhat-flukeish call.
The important thing for the Wizards to keep in mind is not necessarily improving their ability to play games in the final six minutes, but rather, it is making sure that whatever attention they delegate to improving their play down the stretch doesn't take away from maintaining their play in the first 42 minutes. Without those first 42 minutes, we aren't even in position to let a referee's traveling call decide the game.
Same story. Different result. Same lesson. Don't make too much of your struggles down the stretch. They matter, but not in spite of the other seven-eighths of the game.