There was just no way the NBA, Kobe Bryant, or the suspect officiating crew was going to let the Celtics go up three games to none.
The Celtics did not lose because of the officiating. They lost because Ray Allen was the only member of the Big Three that made the trip to LA. That said, because of the things reported in the media Tuesday about the NBA fixing games and influencing officials, it should be noted what happened tonight.
As everyone predicted, in an attempt to give an advantage to the home team, the NBA chose an officiating crew anchored by a guy who was officiating in his first NBA Finals game, and of course running NBA playoff joke Bennett Salvatore.
The Celtics got the benefit of suspect officiating in Game Two. Even the most insane Celtic fan needs to admit to this. The free throw margin, which I have pointed out many times this post season in the opposite direction, was so far in their favor that either the Lakers weren’t playing ANY defense (which is debatably true) or the officials called the game differently on both sides of the floor.
If the NBA wasn’t completely broken, they would have put their best officiating crew on Game Three. There wouldn’t have been an entire first quarter of Kobe Bryant getting make-up free throws. Paul Pierce wouldn't have had five fouls, three of which were suspect. Garnett wouldn't have shot his first two free throws in the third quarter.
The entire first half of the game was an apology to the Lakers. It was so bad, Kobe ended up getting a technical in the fourth quarter because he was so surprised the refs actually had the gall to call a foul on him.
The NBA should have looked at Game Two of this series, just like they should have looked at the games I’ve pointed out earlier in the playoffs where the Celtics were killed by officiating, and cleaned up the officiating in the next game. Making up for the officiating in the previous game is even more inexcusable than the bad officiating that preceded it.
That said, the Celtics lost because Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were both awful. If either one of them showed up, the Celtics would be up three to nothing.
But the fact that the Lakers had a great game from Kobe Bryant, a great game from their bench, a terrible game from Paul Pierce, a bad game from Kevin Garnett, a ton of help from the officials, and still barely won the game doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.
The Celtics need to figure out how to deal with Kobe Bryant switching on to Rajon Rondo. I don’t care how open he is, Rondo isn’t going to win a game on the road with his jump shot. Kobe was able to run around, off Rondo, and double the ball. The Celtics had a terrible time dealing with this.
When Doc was forced to go to Eddie House due to Rondo’s injury, the offense opened up. Hopefully he learns from this and plays the House, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, Brown/Perkins lineup more often.
Against this Lakers team, who can’t play any real defense, you need to spread the floor. If you spread the floor and move the ball, they will break down defensively. The Celtics need to do a better job of forcing this to happen, and I’m not sure they can do that with Rondo on the floor.
Kobe Bryant was immense. He willed his team to victory. You can’t take anything away from him.
But the halftime interview—are you kidding me?
Are we forgetting that, at best, this is a guy who cheated on his wife with a teenager in Colorado? At worst, he’s a rapist. Let’s not try to pretend he’s a great family man.
Why can’t we separate greatness in sport from greatness in real life? If Kobe were a terrible player, do you think we’d be watching interviews about how great of a family man he is? Absolutely not.
Kobe is a tremendous basketball player. Maybe one of the best ever. But he’s a complete jerk on the floor, a complete jerk off the floor, and either a scumbag who took advantage of a young girl in a Colorado hotel room while his wife was at home in California or a rapist.
Stop trying to convince me he’s a great guy.
Can’t stress this enough. Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player. He may end up leading a much lesser Laker team over a superior Celtic team simply because he’s one of the greatest basketball players ever to step on an NBA court.
(OK, rant over...sorry about that. I'm especially grouchy when the Celtics lose.)
So what will happen in Game Four on Thursday night?
I wasn’t confident going into this game (I’m on record saying the Celtics were going to lose), but I am confident going into Thursday’s game.
Game Four is when the Celtics will take control of this series—because they have to. The pressure is back on them. They do NOT want to go into Game Five, in Los Angeles (which is insane, considering the Celtics have “Home Court Advantage” in the playoffs) tied against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Here’s the hoping the NBA sends the “even” officiating crews for the rest of the playoffs. I don’t want the crew from Game Two, and I don’t want the crew from Game Three. I don’t want the Lakers to have the excuse, and I don’t want the Celtics to lose because of officiating.
Hopefully, David Stern is listening.
(PS: Quote of the playoffs, "I'm just surprised he didn't whine about the officiating tonight." -- Doc Rivers when asked about Phil Jackson claiming that Kevin Garnett looked tired.)
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.