Kleeman's Jumphook: Officiating In The NBA Playoffs Has Been Foul

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMay 28, 2009

DENVER - APRIL 19:  NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks to the media prior to the tip off between the New Orleans Hornets and the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 19, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

"Just whistle while you work (whistle)
Put on that grin and start right in
to whistle loud and long
Just hum a merry tune (hum)
Just do your best and take a rest
and sing your self a song

When there's too much to do
Don't let it bother you, forget your troubles,
Try to be just like a cheerful chick-a-dee

And whistle while you work (whistle)
Come on get smart, tune up and start
to whistle while you work"
--Snow White

Are referees taking Frank Churchill's music and Larry Morey's lyrics too seriously?

Sure, an NBA official's job is to blow a whistle and mitigate conflict. However, in the 2009 playoffs, the inconsistent nature of calls being made and the alarming frequency of them has made a Disney comparison more than appropriate.

Playoff basketball is supposed to be a celebration of tough-nosed, physical play where the men spank the boys.

If we could summarize what we want in postseason officiating, "Rocky" comes to mind.

You know, let them play. Let both teams battle for supremacy.

Instead, most of the refs working in the last two months have given us "Bambi."

Maybe someone should remind David Stern that these are basketball players who should like contact, not autistic kids.

I rarely blast the officials because I deplore teams who blame poor performances on foul calls. There are too many factors a team can control for anyone with sense to believe that refs are rigging contests.

In most matches with a gaping free throw disparity, such as game four of the Western Conference Finals, the loser did something no one with a whistle could control.

Phil Jackson complained after that pivotal contest, a 120-101 rout in favor of the Denver Nuggets, that inconsistent calls changed the game's complexion.

Maybe they did. The Nuggets shot 49 free throws, 14 more than the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. It doesn't change how the Denver murdered the Los Angeles on the glass 58-40 and in every other hustle category.

I levy this complaint against the NBA, then, as a fan who understands that teams win and lose games, not the mostly bald white guys with chirping noisemakers.

So, with the formalities and disclaimers out of the way, could we get some freaking consistency? Please?

I have wondered, at times, if Stern hired Bill Cosby and a seafood restaurant to oversee playoff officiating because too many calls have been funny or fishy. Stern should notice that his teams, the ones that give him a first-rate product to sell, are not laughing.

Here are six examples of egregious errors made by referees or absurd blown calls.

NBA referees may tackle the toughest officiating job in all of pro sports, but that does not excuse them from scrutiny or critique.

1. 'T' time for Dwight Howard

In Tuesday night's game four between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic, Dwight Howard dunked over Anderson Varejao and then celebrated the momentum-shifting basket with a harmless fist pump and brief roar. Official Mike Callahan saw differently and assessed Howard with a technical foul for taunting.

The call was significant since it was Howard's sixth of the playoffs. A player earns an automatic suspension without pay after a seventh tech.

Though the league reviewed the play and rescinded its awful call, the damage done is obvious.

First, who the hell decided on seven? Did Stu Jackson blindfold employees at the NBA headquarters and have them throw darts at a board with numbers on it? Why seven?

Second, Stern promised before the 2007-08 season, as the league stepped up its enforcement of technicals, that officials would take into account the emotional nature of the game.

Players would be allowed to react without immediate penalty, he said. A technical would only be called after escalation made additional punishment necessary.

What did Howard escalate? Even Varejao was not complaining about Howard's non-theatrics. How can star players be expected to compete with passion if referees are going to ruin such wussy celebratory gestures with such weighted fouls?

A league-imposed suspension is a big deal, and the last thing Stern should want is a high-stakes conference finals or NBA Finals game in which two stars have been victimized by this paranoid idiocy.

Let them compete, damnit!

2. Da Doo Ron Ron

Referees twice wrongfully ejected Ron Artest in the Houston Rockets series against the Lakers. Those "see ya's" might not have mattered with most players.

Because the ejections involved a player whose reputation precedes him, they meant a lot.

It is fair to wonder: did the refs punish Artest because he did something worthy of a reprimand or because he's Artest? Did they freak out the moment he seemed to charge at Kobe Bryant after the elbow incident in game two and lose judgment?

Would any other player have been escorted off the court for that no-malice-intended game three foul on Pau Gasol? Artest's hand drew mostly ball.

It was barely worthy of a foul as is. Credit Gasol for a Hollywood worthy acting job.

When Artest approached Kobe, seemingly like a bull in a china shop, he deserved a technical. That punishment, though, would have sufficed.

Instead, the refs took him and his 26 points out of a nine-point game that was still winnable for the visiting Rockets.

3. Dahntay's No-Expense Paid Trip

I would agree with Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy that no NBA player is dirty 100 percent of the time.

That does not make what Dahntay Jones did twice to Bryant in Denver this week acceptable or sportsmanlike. He made two dirty plays on last year's MVP that could have resulted in serious, career-threatening injuries.

Jones deserves kudos for mostly brawny and physical defense in the conference finals against the league's best player. For the above offenses, however, he deserved a hefty fine and a suspension.

How can the refs slap Andrew Bynum with a flagrant on Chris Andersen in game four when his hands were making a play on the ball and then just ignore Jones impeding Bryant's path with his feet?

In game three, he also shoved Bryant in the back with two hands.

No foul. No call. No fine. How?

A day after the tripping incident, the NBA broke the silence and gave Jones a flagrant-1 foul.

What good does that do now? Bryant did not start game five by shooting a technical free throw. How did the refs miss either of these acts when they happened?

4. Say it Ain't So...A Week Later

The Rockets lost game two of their first round series against the Portland Trailblazers 107-103, and afterward, Rick Adelman expressed his displeasure with how the officials had let centers Joel Pryzbilla and Greg Oden defend Yao.

He contended Portlands bigs were fouling instead of defending and asked for more consistency from the refs.

After his mini-rant, he had to expect the NBA office would fine him for his remarks. Yet, for nearly a week, the disciplinarian gurus did and said nothing.

Then, after the Rockets had taken both contests in Houston, Blazers coach Nate McMillen griped that Shane Battier and Ron Artest were getting away with too much contact on his star Brandon Roy. He decried the then 100-something to 80-something free throw disparity and, like Adelman, pleaded for consistency.

In truth, neither coach pleaded or hurled insults at the refs, and both made salient points in reasonable tones.

What did the NBA office do after McMillen's complaint? They fined Adelman, too...for the comments he had made a week earlier!

So, why was Adelman's commentary about the "martial arts"-type defense being played on Yao acceptable for seven days and then suddenly taboo when the opposing coach drew the league's ire?

What should have happened in this case never will. Expecting restraint from the league's comment censors is like asking a lovebug not to have continuous sex.

5. No. 62 Never Comes

Mark Wunderlich's crew had called 61 fouls in game three of the Denver Nuggets second round series with the Dallas Mavericks. An uncontested Carmelo Anthony dunk and Dirk Nowitzki miss set up one last chance for the Nuggets to tie or win the game.

With the Mavericks up 105-103, Rick Carlisle instructed Antoine Wright to use the team's foul to give on whichever player caught the ball. Wright hacked Carmelo Anthony twice before he launched the game-winning trey.

Foul 62 didn't come when the Mavericks needed it. Less than three hours after the contest boiled over in controversy, the NBA fouled itself with a sorry and pointless admission that Wunderlich should have blown his whistle.

That the league office drew more attention to its epic error when nothing could be done about it made the no-call more heinous. It would make sense to issue a public statement about a missed call if the two teams were going to replay the final seconds.

Since Stern was not going to order Anthony's three-pointer invalid, why say anything?

Wright fouling Anthony was harder to miss than a rhino at a Starbucks.

Since the Nuggets led the series 2-0 after a pair of routs, the flub arguably did little to alter the Mavericks' fate. One call does not decide a five-game series in which three of the victories come by double digits.

Still, there are seemingly 62 reasons to hate the NBA for not calling this foul.

6. This Flagrant Call Deserves the Bird

As mentioned earlier, in the same contest where Jones intentionally tripped Bryant and the officials called nothing, they assessed the Lakers' Bynum with a bogus flagrant on Chris "Birdman" Andersen.

Replays showed the clean, on-the-ball nature of Bynum's foul. Andersen shot free throws and the Nuggets also got the ball back.

The foul should have been called as a personal or not called at all.

If you look at circumstances of a foul at the end of a close first-round game by the Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo on the Chicago Bulls' Brad Miller and this one, the risk factor is not close.

Rondo could have punched out all of Miller's teeth and made him bleed. The blood alone merited a flagrant foul. Instead, Rondo picked up a personal foul.

Bynum's hand grazed Andersen's arm and leg after swiping at the ball. Andersen dramatized the foul by throwing his headband and falling down.

Rescind This

The league has reneged several technical fouls and downgraded several flagrants after reviewing game tape. While this may undo some harm, it does not cancel out the effect these bogus calls had on that game's outcome.

There is no time machine that allows refs to correct a blown whistle. If a key player picks up ticky-tack fouls, he might limit his aggressiveness and force. That will impact how his team approaches the rest of the game.

Every deserves a game with consistent foul calls. If the referees decide to let the players bump and grind, as they should, then they must allow the same kinds of contact in every quarter.

Also, when an official calls a questionable technical or flagrant foul in a tight contest, the opponent shoots free throws. You can rescind the foul but not the free points that perhaps switched the momentum.

Good thing Stern and his associates cannot slap me with a $25,000 fine for this article. I doubt he's listening or reading anyway.

He should listen. This is not about bah-hum buggery for the sake of critique. This is about the quality and integrity of his great game.


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