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That Whole Refereeing Business


After two debatable calls (or non-calls) in the final minute of game one, the referees are on center stage going into tonight’s game two. Around here, the talk has been of the Celtics’ second half defense, Doc Rivers’ play calls and the shutting down of Carmelo Anthony, but at various other places around the internet that may or may not reside in the 212 area code, you’ll find incessant talk of David Stern’s complicity in some grand scandal, of how the Celtics get away with murder in the name of tough defense, of how the Knicks were screwed.

I hate this kind of thing.

I hate listening to Tommy Heinsohn invent injustices against the Celtics for 2.5 hours, 82 times a year. I hate listening to NBA conspiracy theorists (whose views typically hold up to scrutiny about as well as any other conspiracy theorist you’ll encounter in life). And I hate the selective nature of these discussions. A fan of team ‘x’ is predisposed to obsess over calls that don’t go their way while paying little mind to the calls that opposing team ‘y’ might have problems with. We often can’t agree on this stuff even with the benefit of multiple angles of slow motion replays.

Anthony fouled Pierce trying to get position in the post. Or he didn’t. Kevin Garnett tripped Toney Douglas to clear a path for Ray Allen to launch the game-winning shot. Or he didn’t. Both of these calls should be made in the closing moments of a playoff game. Or they shouldn’t.

I have opinions on all this stuff, none of which I am going to share here. But I might also have opinions on two other random plays, which, although they took place earlier in the game, and in doing so avoided scrutiny, just may have accounted for inappropriate changes of possession.

You really think the Celtics couldn’t make a case for a missed call or two earlier in the game? Or even on the inbound of the Allen game-winner when Melo bumped Pierce in a play that bore an eerie resemblance to a blocking foul?

Of course they could have.

And then the Knicks could find another couple bad calls after that. Or what they perceived to be bad calls.

On and on, around and around.

The damn discussion never ends.

Which is why tonight, I hope it doesn’t even begin.

  • http://twitter.com/michaeljavid @michaeljavid

    That was refreshing. Amen.

  • UhOh!!

    #Nuff.Said **Slow Clap**

  • Zee

    I agree with this article, but think about what the NBA did yesterday by saying that Perkins indeed had a goal tend. That one play that was not called turned the game into OKC's favor.

    And even tonight when an offensive foul was called on the Pacers. That gave Bulls the upper hand.

    What does it all mean? Calls late in the game need to be more focused and precise than ever before. And so that no fan, coach or player gets bent out of shape, refs need to be consistent from start to finish. Which they seem to be in my opinion. I think it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest – and this came from an ESPN correspondent – that "by the book" it was a foul, but shouldn't have been called that late in the game. ????? What???!!! Are we suggesting that refs change how they call the game according to the clock? Ridiculous! If anything, I respect consistency. Melo had two fouls called on him in the first two minutes of the game, and near the end of the game the refs should change how the call fouls? Not at all.


  • Zee

    So what are we learning? That during the playoffs people become more emotional and zealous about their teams chances of winning it all, and that the refs better be more focused than ever before.

  • DRJ1

    This would be less of an issue if the NBA’s refs didn’t suck as they do. But even with the ultimate best refereeing… even with video help on every play… opposing fans would never fully agree. And that’s by DEFINITION. It’s the nature of the game.

    • Chris O

      Haha its why we are fans….short for FANATIC. Meaning we make emotional irrational illogical statements and get all worked up wayyy more than we should lol.

  • https://www.manfredmacx.com Jon

    If you have to point to the refs to explain why you lost, you probably didn't deserve to win anyway.

  • Kevbo

    Hey Ryan, don't be so quick to dismiss belief in referee conspiracy or bias as quackery without empirical basis. I point you to: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1377964 You don't have to agree with or like it, but don't chide everyone for being irrational about NBA reffing when there are really rational people who have a good basis for their arguments (ie a larger sample than a Carmelo Anthony offensive foul).

    And for the record, I'm a diehard Cs fan, not anywhere close to the 212 area code, who's extremely pleased the Cs snuck one out on Sunday.

  • http://www.theonlinesportsjournal.com Jake

    Completely agree with your point about fans over-obsessing, though I think that complaining about calls that could go either way often has merit when the complaint involves targets inconsistent refereeing. The Melo call is a perfect example of this notion:
    There is no denying that Melo's offensive foul could go either way and might not have needed to be called. The legitimate complaint, then, is not that it was called a foul – but that similar plays likely occurred earlier and were not met with a whistle while this instance was. The issue here is the inconsistency. If similar actions had been whistled earlier- NYK fans would have no argument. The outrage stems from a controversial call that originates ex nihilo at the end of the game.

    Presumably, the reason for this outrage stems from the notion that Melo had probably made similar motions all game and had gotten away with them, so there was no reason for him to believe that action would be penalized later on.

    The only real conclusion to be drawn is that consistency is paramount. Consistently making bad calls is not ideal, but it does allow for players to adjust if they understand what is expected of their conduct.

    I'm not for conspiracies and think you make a smart point about the causal-determinism aspect of smaller calls earlier in the game that could have had a demonstrable impact on the outcome; but I do think fans generally have a point when they're upset about a controversial call if the issue is the inconsistency of that type of call over the course of the game.

    • Dropstep

      The thing about consistency though is that most fans seem to agree that the refs should "let the players play" i.e. allow for more physical play. The thing about that then, is that refs will necessarily have to bend some rules, letting contact go on some plays. But then, what should they do to be consistent in that situation? Ignore ALL touch fouls (as in most shooting fouls/and-1 attempts)? Only call a (regular) foul if what would usually be a flagrant foul occurs? Do they ignore all contact?

      I think that when fans start complaining about refs "just calling every ticky tack foul" in the playoffs shouldn't complain too much about refs being inconsistent. If we are asking the referees to bend the rules so that players can play on, then we are simultaneously asking them to make judgement calls about when to whistle. We aren't going to like every whistle but we should not try to tag it as the reason a game was lost. Fans that do that are just lazy.

      I'm sure we wouldn't want the refs to only call a foul if a guy is on the floor writhing, so either we want them to call fouls for undue contact or we want them to let the players play and abide a little inconsistency.

  • v

    @jon- nicely put! Everyone has valid points, personally, I think there is a plot against our team amongst the officials, but that’s just me……. regardless, if your going to win, take it on your grounds, don’t put victory in the hands of the referee.

  • yuckabuck

    I thought the Celtic/ Knicks game ending was the LEAST controversial of the playoffs. Everything was being let go for both teams, unless you had your elbows up high. When Pierce and Anthony were battling for post position, Carmelo had his elbow up around Pierce's face. That got the whistle. It will happen every time since the referees are afraid of having another Malice at the Palace. No brainer really.

  • Scott

    Thats a great article. Honestly, no one likes when calls dont go there way, and they never pay attention to calls that go there way that shouldnt, or calls that should have gone the other teams way when they arent called. Melo might have fouled pierce, and Garnett set a screen and didnt move, but TD tripped, so what are you gunna do?

    This article resembles a big middle finger to complainers nation-wide about officiating, and i LOVE it.

    Go C's

  • Phil

    Fully agree with this article. When I see fans complaining about officiating costing them the game, I just roll my eyes and write it off as fan laziness and bias. It gets much worse when journalists and people actually paid to cover this sort of thing eschew actual analysis in favor of feeding the idea that the players have no influence on how the game ends. I saw way too much of that today and yesterday. The refs are always going to be an unknown one way or the other, if you put the game in the hands of the officials time and time again, you'll win some because of them, and lose some eventually. It all levels out eventually.

    I was rewatching the game on CSN yesterday, because that's what obsessed people do, and Tommy came off really bad in that game. He spent the entire second half in ref attack mode, just waiting for any questionable call to lash out. Eventually he just settled for yelling 'about time!' any time a foul was called on the Knicks. The problem was the officiating was really good in my opinion throughout the second half, and if anything, favorable to the Celtics. My major problem with Tommy is that I can easily see how he feeds the idea in fans that the refs are out to get the Celtics, when its just not true.

  • Derek K

    Don't talk shit about Tommy.

    • kricky

      Agreed. Don't take Tommy more seriously than he takes himself.

  • Dan

    Why does it have to be one or the otherr? Am I allowed to think that there is no conspiracy, but that the refs do make some pretty bad calls due to subtle biases?

    Most important of these biases: home court. Notice how all four examples from this past weekend – the Melo foul, the Hibbert offensive foul, Mavs FT disparity, Perkins tip-in – all benefited the home team. It seems like playing on your home court has some sort of "advantage". Perhaps the Celtics could take note of this in the future.

  • phreesh

    All I'm sayin' is that when I build my army of cruelly efficient 'robo refs', they won't be calling ticky-tack fouls on Melo with less than a minute left in the game.

  • http://celticshub.com/celticsboard/ NickFaldo

    Please explain game 6 Sacramento-LA 2002. Otherwise, sanctimonious criticism of "NBA conspiracy theory" is beyond lame.

  • forgettaboutit

    … continued .. Do some actual research before your finger trap opens up letting out ridiculous articles like this one! Least of our concerns is professional sports with regard to topics of conspiracy and the like.. The world is bursting at its seams from cover-ups and selfish misguided and under-read so-called journalists like yourself. Take your head out of your you-know-what and leave Tommy alone. He makes a meaningless game fun in a world where fun is a limited commodity. Ryan, your comments regarding "conspiracy theorists" in general confines you into a box with the rest of the automatons. Wake up my friend, my estranged brother as you are fast asleep and headed no where fast with your lack of vision and A-typical attitudes towards that which actually matters in life. Sport is a luxury. Please don't respond as the world is dumb enough already and your added input is as useless as a ice chest in the Arctic.
    I greatly enjoy this site and I will leave it at that … http://www.sott.net http://www.rense.com http://www.davidicke.com Godbless and goodnite

  • tweedstereo

    Somebody get this man a kleenex!!! Watch the game on mute, nobody forces you to listen to the admittedly hyper-homer Tommy Heinsohn, get over it.

  • kcabangon

    its not about that… its the fact that, these are trained and experienced referees, and it is imperative that they ALWAYS make the right calls. people pay to watch these games, and people pay these refs. the people deserve fair calls all the way, and if that means having more referees in one game or watching instant replays over and over then it should be done.

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