Late in the third quarter with the Miami Heat leading the Boston Celtics 64-62, LeBron James caught a pass from Dwyane Wade on a fast break. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, seeking to collect an offensive foul on James, ran up behind him and flopped. James raced in for the two-handed flush and Celtics coach Doc Rivers was livid.
The focus of his ire was obvious: He believed that James should have been called for a foul on Rondo on the play. And at that point, all of the adoration that Rivers had justifiably gained throughout his coaching career seemed nonexistent, because at that moment, he was just a guy in a nice suit wondering why his team can't get the calls that the other players seem to get.
Now, arguing to the refs is nothing new. Phil Jackson has turned working the referees into an art form, and Pat Riley had his fair share of criticizing the officials in the media. But this early in the series, when both games have been decided by nine points or more, is it really becoming of a man of his stature to be this adamant about every call?
Rivers argued on every single call. When his players missed shots, which teams tend to do against Miami's defense, he was racing toward the officials to hark about what he saw as contact on the forearm of a shooter or a push in the back on a rebound. Rivers reminded me of that overprotective mother who goes up to her sons school to tell the bullies to "play nice" with her son.
The Celtics are no strangers to rough play, Doc.
Remember all those hard fouls they delivered to James in the playoffs a year ago? I thought that tough, physical play was a part of the postseason and that is what teams needed to do in order to win. Now Doc feels as though elbows and forearms, which his players have never hesitated to introduce into a play, are now suddenly out of bounds when participating in postseason basketball.
Curious, I don't remember Doc complaining much when Kevin Garnett set that illegal pick to free up Ray Allen for the game-winner against the Knicks. Nor do I remember much complaining in the play just prior, when Pierce clearly flopped and the officials called an offensive foul on Carmelo Anthony.
What Doc needs to understand is that his team is facing the Miami Heat, a team that is quicker, more agile, younger and more inclined to drive the lane and pickup fouls. There's no grand conspiracy over why your team is called for more fouls: The Celtics are an older and slower team.
By engaging in this endless war with the officials, Rivers is sending his team a message that his Celtics team can't win because the Refs have it in for his team. This is not only laughably inaccurate, and maddeningly hypocritical, given all of the referees calls that have benefited his team in the last three years, but it is also giving his team a ready-made excuse for their inconsistent play.
Why challenge Jermaine O'Neal to be a bigger force in the paint when you can excuse his porous defense by blaming the officiating? Why challenge Pierce to actually contribute something to this series other than a Game 1 ejection when you can stand right next to him and give the men in pinstripes the evil eye from the sidelines? Why challenge your team to begin to play more aggressively which generally tends to gain the favor of the officials, when you can just send the message of "feel contact and look for a call" to your team?
Boston is still not out of this series and will definitely have a different mentality back at home in Game 3.
But is Rivers sending a message of confidence and control to his team by constantly seeking help from those not attired in green uniforms?