Everything that needs to be said or written about Game 2 of the Celtics-Heat series has been said or written already. Nonetheless, a few thoughts:
1. Any pro sport that features officiating that is chronically suspect is a sport that is going to lose fans. At any level, players should get to play within the rules and officials should do their best to enforce those rules without being noticed. Favoring certain star players and giving rookies a hard time is, apparently, part of the NBA. I get that. But what we’ve seen in recent NBA seasons is officiating that takes those principles to extremes, especially the favoritism of the marquee players. Did Greg Stiemsma really commit four fouls in the span of a 125 seconds early in Game 2? If he did—and if whistles were being blown so liberally to set the tone for the rest of the game—is it possible that Lebron James and Dwyane Wade did not commit more than four fouls between them in 92 combined minutes? No, it isn’t. Is it possible that Lebron simply earned 24 free throws by being aggressive, whereas the Celtics—all of them—earned just 29 by being passive? No, it isn’t. Not when the shot chart shows the Celtics going to the basket as much as the Heat.
2. Meanwhile, don’t the Celtics have a few stars who should be receiving similar latitude when it comes to physical play? This isn’t Heat vs Wizards. Paul Pierce has been around longer than Wade or Lebron, he’s a perennial All-Star, and he already has a championship ring. How has he fouled out of each of the first two games in this series? Why is Kevin Garnett—another Springfield-bound veteran—getting called for moving picks and phantom technicals in the 2012 playoffs? Where is the respect for the Celtics?
3. The overtime period was marked by a 4-point swing made possible by the refs swallowing all three whistles as Dwyane Wade smacked Rajon Rondo across the face on Rondo’s reverse layup attempt. Outcome of the non-call: Rondo gets whacked, misses the shot, crumples to the floor to draw the call he naively assumes is coming, and the Heat race out on a 5-on-4 break that ends with Udonis Haslem getting an open dunk. Instead of going up by two, the Celtics end up being down by two. Everyone knows that was the key play of the quarter, and everyone knows that Rondo got fouled by Wade on the play. The other controversial call in overtime was the Wade drive in which he kicked out his leg into Kevin Garnett as KG reached out to block/foul Wade’s shot. It could’ve been called an offensive foul, as the kick seemed to land before the defensive foul occurred, but of course it wasn’t called as such because that can’t happen to Dwyane Wade or Lebron James in important games. The talking heads on ESPN did their noble best to make it seem like those bad calls and the imbalanced officiating were not the cause of the Celtics’ loss. And many writers have been penning columns about how the Celtics lost the game for other reasons. But how can such calls be so obviously costly to one team and so obviously beneficial to the other without affecting the outcome in a meaningful way? Just because there were other flaws in Boston’s game doesn’t mean the officials’ role in shaping the outcome was a minor one.
4. I don’t understand how David Stern cannot see the image problem that he is fostering by
ordering allowing such biased or imbalanced officiating. TheNBA has plenty of stars who are capable of maintaining the league’s popularity. Those stars do not need to be protected or coddled to this extent. They just don’t. In fact…
5. What star with any integrity welcomes this much favoritism and coddling? It must bother Dwyane Wade and Lebron James that millions of NBA fans see them as teachers pets who are getting free passes all the time, right? If you think you are the best, don’t you want to be competing on a level playing field or on what at least appears to be a level playing field? Do you want to win a game of 5-on-5 or are you just as happy to win a game of 8-on-5?
6. If officiating in the modern NBA is so hard to get right, and fouls like the one Wade committed on Rondo’s face are just too easy to miss because the action is so fast, perhaps it’s time to have more reviews via instant replay. My proposal: each coach should get to contest two foul calls per half. This would help negate bad officiating as it occurs and it would also dissuade bad officiating before it happens because any successful challenges would be recorded as stats. Imagine if you’re Ken Mauer and halfway through a season you are leading all officials in overturned calls? I bet that would compel you to change your ways. If nothing is done to solve this problem or at least give some semblance of addressing the problem, the NBA will continue to look rigged.
7. Rondo’s game was breathtakingly good, which makes the fact that they lost that much more depressing. As others have noted, the torch has obviously been passed from the aging Big Three to Rondo. I hope he’s a Celtic for life. As Bob Cousy reportedly put it, the only way you trade this guy is if he’s a serial killer on the side.