How is an NBA referee like a team trainer?
Interestingly enough, if nobody is talking about them, they are doing their job well. If they are forgotten, then they are doing something right.
The recurring problem in this year's version of the NBA Finals is that the referees have been at the center of attention far too often.
Too often has there been speculation as to which way the calls would go in one particular game. Too often has the role of the lead referee been as pivotal as the performance of the players on the floor.
As soon as the names of Billy Kennedy, Joey Crawford, and Dick Bavetta surface in media discussion, even to the slightest degree, something is utterly wrong with NBA officiating.
The names being discussed on ESPN, NBA TV, or any other sports network should begin and end with Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and every other player fighting to be an NBA champion.
So, why have the officials been at the center of attention?
Questionable, momentum-swinging, and excessive are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe the fouls called in the first four games of the NBA's final round.
In each and every game, key players on both sides have gotten into foul trouble, and quickly at that. In Game 1, the victimized Celtics were Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Tony Allen.
Neither of the three, particularly Garnett and Ray Allen, could establish any kind of rhythm on the offensive end. This doomed the Celtics, who were forced to rely on the production of Paul Pierce in both halves.
It does not stop there. For the Lakers, both Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom battled foul trouble until the final buzzer sounded. Derek Fisher was forced to sit early and often.
Even though the Lakers emerged victorious, they did so in a choppy manner.
Unfortunately, Game 1 was just the beginning of things.
In the next three games, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, Garnett, Allen, Bryant, and Fisher all served as victims of foul trouble at various points in the series.
Not only was the extensive foul trouble a problem, but it was the timing of the fouls that stung the most.
Momentum-swinging touch fouls and slight nudges have been whistled as fouls in the third and fourth quarters of games, especially in the two games in Boston.
When ticky-tack fouls are whistled down the stretch of key games, they can dent the psyche of a team and give the other much-needed momentum. Just ask Rasheed Wallace, who has experienced his fair share of questionable foul calls.
The result of all this? Choppiness, choppiness, and more choppiness. Neither of the four games have been free-flowing or creative, which is what you would expect from two of the best teams in the world.
Now, if physical play and stifling defense were indeed the culprits for this abundance of choppiness, the center of attention would not be on a certain group of people in pinstripes.
Entering a potentially series-deciding Game 5, all we can do is hope that the officiating will improve on the fly.
All we can do is hope that the referees will "let them play" in a Finals where physicality and intensity have been two consistent factors.
Then, maybe then, the referees might just avoid attention. After all, if they do that, then they are doing something right.