Friday, December 14, 2007

Where Amazing and Abysmal Happen

Tonight's game between Golden State and Los Angeles Lakers epitomized what's right and wrong with the NBA.

First of all, the positive. It was an amazing game. Constant back and forth, ebb and flow. Two well-oiled offenses constantly driving to the hoop. Slash attacks, spin moves, vicious dunks; poetry in motion. The best part was during the final stretch in the 4th quarter when neither team called a timeout. This was ballin' unfiltered and uninterrupted. The Warriors escaped with a 108-106 victory, defeating the Lakers for the first time in ten tries. Golden State players were pumped; they clearly wanted the monkey off their backs and to beat their SoCal rivals. Baron Davis, saddled with foul trouble, nailed two amazing three's to help put the Warriors ahead. And they needed all the help they could get as mental mistakes and high emotions nearly derailed them. For the Lakers Andrew Bynum continued his maturation process with 17 points, 16 rebounds and one thunderous dunk. The big story for LA was Kobe Bryant, who suffered a left groin injury late in the contest and tried valiantly to continue playing. Talk about drama.

The Bay Area packed the Oracle Arena to the tune of 20,705, a state record for a basketball game. The place was rocking. At one point announcer Marc Jackson blurted "I love this game!" It felt like a playoff game... in December!

Now what mired this game is what almost always derails NBA games... the officiating. It was abysmal. Foul calls at times seemed arbitrary, based upon which players could flail their limbs or scream in (false) agony the best. And the judgment calls were wildly inconsistent. During one play Bynum and a Warriors defender jump for a high pass. Bynum tips the ball to a Lakers player and takes down the defender in the process. The refs allow the play to continue and the Laker scores uncontested. Later in the game Stephen Jackson brushes Kobe's elbow (and that's been generous) during a shot attempt and gets called for the foul. In that same quarter Bryant barrels into the lane on multiple occasions. With defenders swarming and bumping Kobe throws up shots hoping to draw calls. The refs hold their whistles, Kobe argues and the maddening inconsistency continues.

The worst incident happened when Matt Barnes shoved Ronny Turiaf in the face to prevent an easy layup. What clearly should have resulted in an flagrant foul type 2 (and automatic ejection) resulted in only a type 1. Although it was bang-bang type of play the refs are trained and paid to make the right calls. It was such an obvious, important and easy decision (blow to the head = ejection) that its omission was baffling and disheartening. Maybe one call (or non-call) doesn't make or break a game, but a handful decides a close contest.

During the offseason the NBA quickly acted to neutralize Tim Donaghy's impact. The league did its best to assure fans that refs were not influencing contests to influence games. I sincerely doubt officiating crews are intentionally trying to sabotage contests, but they oftentimes have an adverse effect on them.

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