The officials basically handed last night’s game to the Celtics. Boston came out on top 108-102 after a furious comeback by the Lakers, but the game was decided with whistles, not baskets. Anyone who’s ever played basketball or knows the inner workings of the game will tell you that at the end of a contest two things should almost always be even: fouls and free throws. Everyone hacks, hand-checks and bumps just as much as everyone else. All that has to happen is for the referees to call those bumps, bangs, hacks and reaches evenly. Last night, the Lakers were whistled for 28 fouls, the Celtics had 21. The Lakers shot just 10 free throws, the Celtics took 38. Again, the Celtics had the game handed to them. Not even the half-assed attempt to make up the difference in the second half was convincing. The officials called fouls far away from the hoop on the Celtics’ reserves during the late third and early fourth quarter – once the game was out of reach – in an attempt to even up the numbers.
I’ve never seen a home team get the benefit of virtually every ticky-tack, touch foul while on offense, then be allowed to basically mug the opposing team without having anything called. Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and others said the same thing without actually saying it (for fear of a fine and no professional wants to blame the officials for a loss). And to be clear, I don’t think the officials are the reason the Celtics won, I just think the Lakers never had a chance because of the way the game was officiated.
Here are some examples of how messed up the officiating was:
-During the regular season, the Celtics averaged 22.7 personal fouls per game, 0.5 more than their opponents. In the opening two games of the series they’ve been called for 22 and 21. Pretty close right? Well, the Lakers averaged 20.6 fouls per game during the season, 2.0 less than their opponents. In the openings two games of the series they’ve been called for 28 and 29 respectively. So suddenly the Lakers hack the sh*t out of their opponents to the tune of 8.5 more fouls per game? Magically the Lakers are fouling far more and being called more closely, but the Celtics have remained the same?
-During the regular season the Lakers shot 27 free throws per game. In the finals so far they’ve shot 28 and 10 in the two games. The Celtics averaged 26.5 free throws per game during the regular season. In the opening two games they’ve shot 35 and 38.
Here are some more numbers, mostly from the first half when the Celtics began to build their huge lead:
-The Celtics had a 17-10 foul advantage at the half
-The Celtics also had a 19-2 free throw advantage at the half and one of the Lakers free throws was the result of technical foul on Garnett. Therefore, it didn’t come from a foul being called on Boston’s “handsy” defense.
-At the half, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher had three fouls. Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic and Ronny Turiaf each had two.
-Kobe, Fisher and Radmanovic all had to sit for significant portions of the first half with foul trouble. Perkins was the only Celtic to sit due to fouls.
Oh, and here’s my favorite stat of the night:
-Leon Powe played just 15 minutes, he shot 13 free throws. As a team, the Lakers shot 10 for the game. That’s ridiculous.
Kobe Bryant was grabbed and held and shoved on virtually every possession, then bumped every time he went up for a shot. There were no calls. Now I’m OK with that kind of physical play, especially in the NBA Finals. But the Lakers have been called for virtually every “contact” foul of that sort. All I’m asking is to either let the teams play or call all the rough stuff. One or the other.
Like I said, it pisses me off because this is a battle of two very evenly matched teams and could be a series that goes down as a great one. But so far the officials have had way too much to do with the outcome of both games.
UPDATE: Virtually everyone agrees with my assessment of the officiating including Boston-homer extraordinaire, Bill Simmons. But J.A. Adande’s column about it sums it up best I think. It wasn’t that the Lakers played better and SHOULD have won. It’s that they were never given a chance to be in the game because of the foul and free throw disparity.