Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat was an extremely competitive game that ended up marred by questionable calls down the stretch, all thanks to the Joey Crawford show.
If you've watched more than a handful of basketball games over the course of the past six years, you'll know that Crawford is the beady-eyed, bald-headed referee who only finds joy when he's dishing out technical fouls and arguing with players.
Crawford has been an NBA referee since 1977, when the 26-year-old was no more than a little ball of fury with hopes of one day making an impact on the league.
His reputation grew as a no-nonsense official, but he didn't become the full-on parody that he is today until sometime in the middle of the last decade.
If you want to point to specific incident, Crawford's technical foul call on Tim Duncan back in April of 2007 created the largest referee scandal not involving Tim Donaghy of the past decade.
What was the big deal? Crawford gave Duncan a tech for laughing...while on the bench.
From there, a few details came out. Duncan apparently cursed at Crawford, who came back at Duncan by challenging him to a fight.
For whatever reason, the league looks down upon referees attempting to fight players, so Crawford was suspended for the remainder of the season.
At that point, Crawford became a caricature of his former self. He had always been a bit on the short-tempered side, but it never seemed as if he was purposefully trying to get recognition.
His calls are generally overemphasized, he's been chastised by fans for attempting to intimidate players and his presence on the court is always noted.
If you go to a game and hear Crawford introduced beforehand, it's likely you'll hear a bit of an audible groan from the arena.
Heck, I even feel a bit bad for fellow referee Danny Crawford for having to share a last name with Joey Crawford. I'm sure there's some knee-jerk mistaken identity that goes on from time to time.
So, has this status as the league's celebrity referee affected his judgement over the past few years? I think it's safe to make that assumption to a point.
Crawford is constantly putting himself in the spotlight, and that attitude when officiating a game has to have some impact in the long run.
Just take a look at Tuesday's Eastern Conference Finals game. A controversial 24-second violation is the call that sticks out more than others.
Roy Hibbert's attempt hit the rim, but the shot clock didn't reset. It seemed as if the officials along the baseline saw the ball hit the rim, so they let the play keep going.
Crawford came sprinting in from the backcourt and took it upon himself to make the call, despite being the furthest from the basket among the three officials.
It was a bad call.
Does he make bad calls? Obviously. He is an NBA referee. In fact, he makes some absolutely atrocious calls every now and then.
I absolutely dislike the fact that Crawford has taken it upon himself to get more notice than his cohorts on the court; it's an embarrassment to the league.
However, I also don't think that makes him the league's worst official.
Calling Joey Crawford "the NBA's worst ref" is basically like saying "I don't watch the NBA before May." Awful last night, not the worst.— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) May 29, 2013
In fact, I would argue that his presence as the NBA's "enforcer" referee is completely necessary, especially once we get into the playoffs.
Let's look at the previous series between the Heat and the Chicago Bulls for a perfect example
Game 2 got completely out of hand. Nine technical fouls were called, players were elbowing and shoving at every opportunity, and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were both ejected.
Enter Crawford for Game 3 in Chicago, an atmosphere that had every opportunity to blow up in the league's face if there wasn't a hard-fisted referee at the helm.
Crawford dished out a tech to Noah early on for shoving Chris Andersen while he was on the ground and then gave one each to LeBron James and Nazr Mohammed for the strange tackle-shove in the second quarter, ejecting Mohammed in the process.
From there, it was a well-officiated game with no more questionable calls than any normal NBA game.
Basically, Crawford did his job, and the game was extremely entertaining, possibly because of his presence.
We'll all probably go on hating Crawford, and that's completely fine. He's turned into an egomaniacal control-freak at times, but that doesn't mean he should be fired.
If he were fired, we wouldn't get to see players mess with him throughout the regular season, which can be the highlight of a day when we get deep into January.
He should rein in the flashy displays but keep being the league's enforcer, because he's the hero the NBA deserves but not the one it needs right now.
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