Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The NBA, refs, and fouling

The NBA Finals are taking a bit of a backseat to talk about former referee Tim Donaghy, betting on games, fixing games, officiating games in a certain manner, league mandates on which outcomes should be "helped," etc., etc., etc. As much as David Stern wants this chapter of his tenure to go away, it won't. In the coming weeks and months, look for more and more information, innuendo, facts, and witnesses to step forward.

In general, I'm not a big believer in conspiracy theories. I find them interesting, like a good TV crime drama: fun to talk about and consider the possibilities, but ultimately not true if only because too many people would have to be involved to pull it off. How would it ever work logistically? (Here's my article on that looks at some of league's most notorious conspiracy theories).

Then, with the Celtics leading Game 3, 62-60, after three quarters, I wondered aloud how soon Boston would be in the penalty in the fourth quarter.

Foul No. 1: Leon Powe, away from-the-ball, bumps Lamar Odom, 0:39 elapsed.
Foul No. 2: Eddie House, away-from-the-ball, grabbing Kobe Bryant, 1:23 elapsed.
Foul No. 3: James Posey, on a Kobe Bryant shot attempt, 2:49 elapsed.
Foul No. 4: Ray Allen, away from the ball, vs. Luke Walton, 3:41 elapsed.
Foul No. 5: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher, 5:34 elapsed.

Now, the Celtics aren't the first team to spend the final 5:34 of a tough defensive game in the penalty, but if you're ever wondering how officials can really impact the game this is it. Block/charge calls, traveling calls, etc., are going to be replayed and critiqued numerous times on TV. They're going to be challenged.

But it's the away-from-the-ball bumping, holding, hand-checking calls early in quarters that never are mentioned. Analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson didn't question any of these five fouls, three of which happened 15-20 feet away from the basket and even farther away from the action. The first two, in particular, were highly dubious.

They are calls that could be made on every possession, but aren't. Yet, in the fourth quarter of a pivotal game in the NBA Finals, they were called and they all went in favor of the home team that needed to win to extend the series.