Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday Night Wrap-Up: As Predicted ...

As expected, the upstart Nuggets and Warriors never had much of a chance tonight. Sure, the Warriors were looking good early and the Nuggets made things interesting late, but those W's were in the books before the opening tip. What bothered me about both games is that the predictably lopsided officiating undermined the performances by San Antonio and Dallas. I am sure those teams could have won without help from the refs, yet it is hard to know when the officials insert themselves into the action so blatantly. Just as I predicted in an earlier post, they went right after Nene and Baron Davis, slapping two on the former in the first eight minutes (on highly questionable calls) and two on the latter in the first three minutes. They also hit Davis with a bogus first technical and generally railroaded him all game. That is not to say that he should not have been thrown out, because he was clearly begging for it by the time he got his second T. It actually seemed like he was trying to foul just so that he could complain and therefore be tossed. Not a strong showing there. But just because Baron and Jackson acted like lunatics at the end of the game, it doesn't change the fact that the refs treated Davis like he had a giant target on his back.

Worse than the individual targeting of Davis and Nene was how one-sided "general contact" was officiated. The Spurs and Mavs were both able to beat the hell out of offensive players up and down the court with virtually no repercussions, while the Warriors and (to a lesser degree) Nuggets were getting whistled for seemingly every little bump. This was particularly evident in the first quarter of the Nuggets-Spurs game (I conservatively counted eight San Antonio fouls that went uncalled; anyone who doesn't believe me should go watch the tape) and in the third quarter of the Mavs-Warriors contest. And honestly, it isn't fun to watch basketball when that happens. Of course Greg Popovich felt his team played with more "physicality" tonight - there was virtually nothing they could do that constituted a foul! Of course Avery Johnson was pleased that his team had 14 steals; they were manhandling people (which, ironically, has been a Golden State staple the last month).

It is important to note that I'm not blaming the outcome of the games on the officials like everyone seems to do these days. Nobody - fans, coaches, and players alike - ever wants to take responsibility for a loss these days, finding it easy to blame the officials instead. What concerns me is how obvious this was going in. I mean, I predicted it down to the exact players in a previous post. How can that be good for the league? So make no mistake; I'm not joining the legion of Warriors fans claiming that they were robbed tonight. I am concerned about the validity of these games. Nobody should have to question 67 and 58-win teams winning a Game Two to get a home court split in the playoffs. Yet the officiating is so predictably bad in the NBA that it was foregone conclusion that the Nuggets and Warriors would get jobbed. Then, when you did get shaky officiating, there was the predictable outcry.

I mean, just look at some of the numbers. Denver has the #4 and #6 players in the league in free throw attempts per game and they shot just 17 free throws as an entire team tonight despite the fact that they spent the whole game attacking the rim. Allen Iverson averages 9.4 attempts from the line per game, took 25 shots tonight (at least a dozen of which were amidst heavy contact in the lane), and didn't shoot a single free throw. How is that even possible? In the second game, the Mavericks shot a whopping 43 freebies to just 27 by Golden State. This, despite the fact that they took virtually the same number of threes and basically played identical styles. If anything, G-State attacked the basket even more than Dallas. Even if you pull out the three technical free throws, that is still a 13-shot advantage. And I'm telling you, one team didn't warrant 13 more free throws than the other in this game.

All of this just undermines the whole event. You simply HAVE to call things both ways. That is rule #1 for officials at any level. And if you are going to hit a guy with two early fouls (which will completely change the game), you had better make sure they are actually fouls. I know that the Mavs and Spurs would probably have won anyway and I know that Warriors and Nuggets fans just sound like babies for lighting up message boards with complaints. But this is a real problem. You can't just cite Golden State's "lack of composure" as some sort of overarching excuse for the way the game was called.

For me, the bottom line is that regardless of who won, these games were tainted by the predictably bad officiating; something that has plagued the NBA for years. Just the fact that they are still letting Bennett Salvatore work playoff games shows how little credibility the NBA has when it comes to its officials. Throw in the Harry Potter-like invisibility cloak when it comes to fines and other forms of referee punishment and it is a joke. If David Stern thinks suspending Joey Crawford somehow constitutes cleaning house and winning back public trust, he's sadly mistaken.

I sincerely hope this doesn't continue, because I was really pumped for these playoffs and the action on the court has been great so far. But if things get predictable because you know exactly how the games will be called, it just takes all the excitement out of it.

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