Friday, July 20, 2007

Even More NBA Suspicions Confirmed

Time and again, watching the NBA Heat games and then the playoffs, I wondered at how ONE-SIDED the refs often were in games that were otherwise evenly matched. A friend of ours was at the time dating a Knicks official with a condo down here in Boca, so I even remember the game cited here:
Donaghy was part of a crew working the Heat-Knicks game in New York in February when the Knicks shot 39 free throws to the Heat's eight, technical fouls were called on Heat coach Pat Riley and assistant Ron Rothstein, and the Knicks won by six. New York was favored by 4½.

as being particularly badly referee-ed and I mentioned to a couple of friends that I thought point-shaving was going on. And watching sports shows, the subject never came up even though I thought some games just cried out for closer examination.

NBA officials always stress that each game is watched afterwards by all the refs & critiqued for bad calls and rules interpretations. I would be very surprised if Donaghy was the only rotten apple in this motley crew of refs who to me often seem determined to get key players [especially Shaq] in foul trouble which greatly alters the whole course of a given game. That happens so often, with such spurious calls, that Stern should go deeper into the farce that is NBA reffing.

I still want to know why the Spurs beat the Suns because of the Spurs flagrant foul and subsequent sidelineing of two Suns who left the bench. HERE IS WHAT BILL SIMMONS OF ESPN SAYS ABOUT THAT GAME.
the Spurs were favored by four, with an over/under of 200.5 -- after San Antonio prevailed, 108-101, thanks to Amare Stoudemire playing just 21 minutes because of foul trouble:

Congratulations to Greg Willard, Tim Donaghy and Eddie F. Rush for giving us the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs so far: Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series. Bennett Salvatore, Tom Washington and Violet Palmer must have been outraged that they weren't involved in this mess. Good golly. Most of the calls favored the Spurs, but I don't even think the refs were biased -- they were so incompetent that there was no rhyme or reason to anything that was happening. Other than the latest call in NBA history (a shooting foul for Manu Ginobili whistled three seconds after the play, when everyone was already running in the other direction), my favorite moment happened near the end, when the game was already over and they called a cheap bump on Bruce Bowen against Nash, so the cameras caught Mike D'Antoni (the most entertaining coach in the league if he's not getting calls) screaming sarcastically, "Why start now? Why bother?" What a travesty. Not since the cocaine era from 1978-1986 has the league faced a bigger ongoing issue than crappy officiating.

Now ...


Follow-up note: A few hours after this column was posted on Sunday morning, an NBA fan posted "highlights" from Game 3 on YouTube that reveal Donaghy making a number of questionable calls during that Spurs-Suns game, including the three-seconds-too-late call on Ginobili that I mentioned in my column (and two months ago as well).

After the call is made, play-by-play announcer Mike Breen calls it a "late whistle" three different times, then a replay of the play shows that there was no contact, followed by Breen saying "doesn't look like there was much there" and partner Jon Barry adding, "I don't know what he saw!"

Collectively, it's a damning collection of anti-Phoenix calls, although not all of them were made by Donaghy. Expect the highlights of this game to eventually become the Zapruder Film of the Donaghy Scandal. Sorry, Phoenix fans.

Before the Donaghy scandal broke, if you told me there was a compromised official working a 2007 playoff game and made me guess the game, I would have selected Game 3 of the Spurs-Suns series. There were some jaw-dropping calls throughout, specifically, the aforementioned Ginobili call and Bowen hacking Nash on a no-call drive that ABC replayed from its basket camera (leading to a technical from D'Antoni). Both times, Mike Breen felt obligated to break the unwritten code that play-by-play announcers -- don't challenge calls and openly questioned what had happened. The whole game was strange. Something seemed off about it.

At the time, I assumed the league had given us another "coincidence" where three subpar refs (and calling that crew "subpar" is being kind) were assigned to a Game 3 in which, for the interest of a long series, everyone was better off having the home team prevail ... just like I anticipated another "coincidence" in which one of the best referees would work Game 4 to give Phoenix a fair shake in a game that, statistically, they were more likely to win. After all, it's easier to win Game 4 on the road than Game 3, when the fans are pumped up and the home team is happy to be home. (Which is exactly how it played out. Steve Javie worked Game 4, a guy who Jeff Van Gundy deemed "the best ref in the league" during the Finals. Hmmmm.) Look, this could have been an elaborate series of connected flukes. I'm just telling you that none of it surprised me. Which is part of the problem.

But here's what I didn't expect: That a potentially crooked ref was working that game.

Imagine being a Suns fan right now. You just spent the past two months believing that your team got screwed by the Stoudemire/Diaw suspensions, that you would have won Game 1 if Nash didn't get hurt, that you would have taken Game 3 if you hadn't been screwed by the officials, that you would have cruised in Game 5 if two of your best guys weren't suspended for running toward their best player as he lay in a crumpled heap. Now it looks like an allegedly compromised referee worked Game 3.

Well, how much did Donaghy affect the game? How many calls did he whistle on Stoudemire? How many of Bowen's potential fouls did he not call? Was he the seemingly incompetent schmuck who made that three-seconds-too-late call on Ginobili? Did Tim Donaghy cost you that game?

If David Stern wants to do right by the fans, then he should order NBA TV to rerun the tape of Game 3. We need answers. We need to know for sure. Hell, they can start a series called "NBA Hardwood Classics: The Tim Donaghy Collection" and we'll spend the rest of the summer combing through games and figuring out how many Donaghy could have fixed. Like Game 6 of the Raptors-Nets series, which New Jersey won by a point in the final seconds. Did he swing that one? What about Game 2 of the Orlando-Detroit series, when the Magic rallied for a late cover in the final seconds with Donaghy jogging around? What about the Heat-Knicks game from last February in which the Knicks were given a 39-8 free-throw advantage and covered a 4.5-point spread by 1.5 points? Did Donaghy call those two technical fouls on the Miami coaches? Is there footage of Pat Riley screaming at him?

Stern was oh so indignant and holier than thou. I want to see this PR jerk Stern actually do his job in searching out ref betting and point-shaving/game-throwing. Lowell in the NFL is leading the way. Where is David Stern's backbone?

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