June 2008 - Posts

Between Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, disgraced ex-referee Tim Donaghy said that a handful of past postseason games were called impartially by the referees to extend a series per the machinations of the League and stations carrying the postseason games. It is believes that one game Donaghy was referring to was Game 6 of the WCF in the 2002 NBA Playoffs between the Kings and Lakers, a game the Lakers won to force a Game 7 in Sacramento. Commissioner David Stern quickly denounced Donaghy's claims, referring to him as a "singing felon" who is looking to lessen his prison sentence and take down another ref or two on his way out.

When I was in high school I worked as a youth soccer referee for some spending money. Each Saturday I'd referee two to three games at the ballpark, from the Under 6 games to the Under 13 games. (Only adult referees were allowed to referee the Under 18 games, which made sense... no point in having a referee who is younger than some of the players or who may be friends with the players.) Having been in this position - albeit a far, far, far, far cry from refereeing a professional sport - I can say with certainty that refereeing is by no means an objective endeavor. There is nothing objective about sports, from the fans to the announcers, to the referees. Everyone of these actors are human and have some sort of subjectivity. As a referee, the way a player or coach interacts with you affects your call making. It shouldn't, granted, but it does. If you have a coach that comes up to you before the game, is very polite and kind, and drops a line like, "Hey, last time we played these guys, I had two of my boys hurt from #25 on the other team, he plays really rough." That comment right there is going to nestle into the folds of your cranium and you are going to, subconsciously if not consciously, keep your eyes open when #25 is near the ball. Likewise, if a coach or player is exceptionally rude or mean to you, you can't help but let that affect your mental state. Or if you missed calling a rather blatant foul committed by Team X at one point, if they commit a more ticky tack foul 30 seconds later you're likely to call that, to makeup the first missed call. (This happens all the time in the NBA.)

What's worse is that due to the subjectivity of fans and announcers, they are going to interpret a ref's actions in a different light, even if, by some magical circumstance, the ref is purely objective. Here's an interesting thought experiment: imagine that the NBA took referees off the court and replaced it with people watching the game off the court, but having a way to signal a foul. How would that affect fans' interpretation of the calls being made? Would they feel differently if they couldn't actually see the refs, as humans, making the calls and interacting with the players? Take it a step further. Imagine that the NBA had a computer program that could watch the game and, in real time, make objective calls. And then imagine that you had half the games "ref'd" by humans watching the screens, and half by the computers, but you never told the fans which games were being refereed by humans and which by computers. Do you think the average fan could tell what games were refereed by humans vs. those by computers? Even if they knew a computer was making the calls, would they anthropomorphize the computer by assuming it "favored" one team over another?

In the end, I think that virtually every NBA ref is as objective as he or she can be. Yes, there can be rotten apples like Donaghy, but most, I think, are as objective as you're going to get.  It's far too easy to "see" a conspiracy - the NBA wants a Game 7, so "they" corroborated with the officials to "fix" the game!! I think such accusations are rubbish and too easy a cop out for a team that isn't playing well. Take Game 2 of this year's NBA Finals. In the first half the Celtics got several phantom calls and were seldom whistled for fouls they committed. I think even the most die-hard Celtic fan will admit to this discrepancy. Yet it's too easy to blame the Lakers loss (or Celtics win) solely on the refs that game. The Celtics played outstanding D most of the game, the Lakers let the refs affect them mentally, and (as has been the case this entire series), Gasol and Odom shrunk from the spotlight while Ray Allen has continued to play lights out.

Until referees are replaced by computers, there will be "homer calls" and "makeup calls," and we're just going to have to live with that. If you can't stomach the human element in the refereeing of your sport games, then start following referee-less sports, like chess.

Posted by Scott Mitchell | 4 comment(s)
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I've been quite busy lately and haven't had a chance to blog much about the playoffs. I have been doing my best, though, to watch many of the Lakers game throughout these playoffs. Given the ease with which they dispatched the Nuggets and the lack of serious challenges against the Jazz and Spurs, I thought the Lakers would roll on the Celtics. And at halftime in Game 1 my confidence was still there. Heck, even after they lost Game 1 I was still thinking that the main reason they lost was because they went cold in important parts of the latter half and that they'd redeem themselves in Game 2. But, as we know, they didn't, in part because the refs were making some pretty questionable calls, but in a larger part because Kobe was bickering with his teammates and the Celtics were playing strong D. That's when I realized what, perhaps, I should have known all along: the Celtics are a better team than LA. And that's the thing about 7-game series. The best team wins the series most every time.

Anywho, I figured that if the Lakers could sweep at home they'd be heading into Boston with a lot of momentum and a Celtic team with a shaken psyche. And in tonight's game, when they were up by 24 in the 2nd quarter, I thought if they could keep this lead up and extend it even, win by 25 or 30 or 35 points, a shell shocked Boston team would likely be would likely wilt in Game 5, giving the Lakers the home sweep and setting up a possible Game 6 win in Boston. But we know what happened. The Laker squandered a magnificent lead and strong first half and ended up getting embarrassed at home. My new prediction: Boston in 5. I don't see the Lakers bouncing back from this defeat.

I watched the entire game and kept a running diary to post here. This game started so well - Lamar playing out of his mind, the role players really stepping up and scoring - and then it ended so badly. All times are Pacific Daylight Savings Time.

[6:10 PM] Four shots from LA - one 3 ball attempt from Kobe, three drives to the hoop. To win this series the Lakers need to keep attaking the basket.
[6:11 PM] Back door cut by Pau for an easy dunk. First nice off the ball movement we've seen by the Lakers this Finals.
[6:16 PM] Lamar to the hoop for two! Again! Welcome to the NBA Finals, Lamar. In case you didn't hear, they actually started last week, but I'm glad you're here now. Please don't leave until we wrap this series up.
[6:26 PM] 21 point lead for LA. But what's more important is that Lamar has finally showed up, is playing aggressively, getting boards, and on fire (5 for 5 shooting). During the regular season the Lakers had too many games where they'd open a big lead and then let the other team come right back. Times where they were up 20-25 points in the 3rd only to end up in a game that goes down to the wire in the 4th. They gave up a big lead in the Utah series, too, and barely hung on to pull out the W. Let's hope that this pattern doesn't repeat itself tonight.
[6:29 PM] Odom, again! 6 for 6!
[6:36 PM] Clearly "Good Teammate Kobe" is in the building tonight. Yes, he's commanding the ball to start the offense, but he's very often passing to open players. A much more team-oriented approach than what we saw at the start of Game 3. Although you wonder if we'd be seeing "Scowl at My Teammates" Kobe if they weren't enjoying a 21 point lead at the end of the first.

[6:42 PM] Interesting lineup for the Lakers. Gasol is the only starter with four bench players. This has been one of the Lakers main assests this season - an exceptionally strong and talented bench. They didn't show their talents very well in Boston, though.
[6:45 PM] Ariiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiza! It's good to see Trevor back. He showed some great flashes in the regular season prior to his injury. With a healthy Bynum, a better integrated Ariza, Sasha with a new contract, Lamar in a contract year, and the team coming off of a World Championship (fingers crossed), next year's squad should be absolutely amazing.
[6:52 PM] Odom! Again! 7 for 7!
[7:04 PM] Celtics on a 12-0 run. Erp.
[7:05 PM] Fisher to the hoop... and 1!
[7:15 PM] FAMAR AT THE BUZZER! Wow! FOR THREE! Speaking of Famar, how about those ears?
[7:17 PM] End of the first half, Lakers lead 58-40. Their biggest lead of the half was 24. You know the offense would shut down at one point, and the Celtics would start hitting their shots, slicing into the lead. After narrowing the gap to 12, the Lakers came out of the slump and finished the quarter strongly. Lamar is playing quite well (although for some reason he sat for most of the 2nd quarter). Gasol is having some troubles with his handles. A number of passes have slipped through his hands, and he's lost the ball going up for a layup once, too. He needs to step up his game, too. Not tonight, maybe, but certainly on Sunday for Game 5. Fun fact of the half: Kobe has yet to score a field goal. Yessir, it's "Good Teammate Kobe" tonight.

[7:38 PM] The first couple of minutes of the third quarter will set the tone for the rest of the game. Let's hope the Lakers can come out strong, build this lead back up to 24-28 points, and send the Celtics a message.
[7:46 PM] Gasol is playing very timidly tonight. Virtually every time he catches it in the post he's looking to pass. Even on his cuts to the basket he's looking left and right, wanting to dish off rather than take it strong to the bucket. He started off the game with a nice back door cut and dunk, but since then has had poor hands, has been getting schooled by Garnett, and has apparently has come down with some sort of strange allergic reaction to iron that's keeping him far away from the rim.
[7:56 PM] Celtics on a run. Deficit cut to 11. The Lakers came out flat to start the third quarter and despite pushing the lead back up to 20 at one point, they've been playing rather uninspiring ball.
[8:03 PM] It's now a single digit deficit game with two minutes left in the 3rd.
[8:04 PM] A botched finished by Gasol at the rim (ball slipped out of his hands) then a foul on the defensive end trying to (futilely) stop Garnett. Can we just start calling this "The Gasol Move?"
[8:07 PM] Celtics down by two. Lovely.

[8:12 PM] Kobe... dribbling... dribbling... dribbling... shot clock ticking... dribbling... dribbling... pass to Touriaf under the rim, nice.
[8:13 PM] Turiaf: two missed free throws. Not nice.
[8:31 PM] Celtics take the lead and, with that, the Lakers players' testicles. All of them. In one fell swoop. Let's hope the Lakers can get them back before this game ends.
[8:35 PM] With a shade over two minutes remaining, the Celtics push their lead to 5. Beautiful.
[8:46 PM] There's still time left, but there's no way the Lakers are going to win this game or the series. And they don't deserve to win the title. No team that can surrender a 24 point lead in a game of this magnitude deserves to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy. What a horrible game by the Lakers. Just horrid. The Celtics are clearly a better, deeper team.
[8:52 PM] I feel sick to my stomach. The Lakers had this series in their hands. Witha  big win tonight, they would have had all the momentum heading into the most important game in a 2-2 series - Game 5.
[8:56 PM] I can't imagine what the players on the Lakers must be feeling now. They had a chance to stick it to the Celtics, to truly shake their confidence and hold serve in LA. But the opposite happened, instead. They let the Celtics dig themselves out of the hole they fell into and win and take a vital 3-1 series lead. Gasol was terrible this game. What motivation does he have to pick it up next game? And Lamar had a strong first half, but shrunk from the spotlight in the second half. This would have been such a great game for him to bolster his confidence headed into Game 5. But now? Now he's going to continue to hide in the shadows. My prediction for Sunday? Lakers put forth a subpar effort and get blown out by the Celtics at home. What a total letdown.

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