Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't Blame The Refs: The Thunder Are Killing Themselves

It's a common practice of haters such as ourselves to try to find a reason, any reason, that the target of our hate is succeeding. In the case of PTU whipping boy, LeBron James, the thought of his actually winning a championship could send any basketball fan scrambling for a Kennedy assassination level conspiracy theory. The most common theory is the fix is in and the refs are going to make sure the Heat win a title. I think this is baloney. Big market teams (and the teams that get the highest ratings) do sometimes get a boost from the officials. There's been a couple games in the past 10 years that appeared to show blatant favoritism towards a team like the Lakers, but I believe that there's a greater chance that Tupac is tanning on the beach on an island somewhere than David Stern called the officials into his office and said "Make sure the Heat get the majority of the calls in this series. And for God sakes, get Durant off the court however you can!". Let's say the NBA does occasionally conspire to fix games for the sake of argument. Even if they worked to get a particular team in the Finals (and it would be the Lakers not the Thunder playing the Heat if they did), once that team was there, the most important thing would be to prolong the series. The league does not benefit from one team winning a series in 5. They would also not purposely put the third biggest superstar on the bench, as some people have implied, through manipulated foul calls. The Finals have been marketed by the league as Magic vs Bird 2.0. They wouldn't then purposely get Magic in foul trouble. The fact of the matter is Kevin Durant has committed dumb fouls throughout the series.

Are some of these fouls a little ticky tack? Sure. But I can't see a scenario in which the NBA would mandate it's referees to take one of the best players off the court in a Finals series. Of the four fouls in the video, the worst call is probably the first. A jab step and a shoulder used to clear some space that Durant and LeBron do all the time. A bad call, maybe, but not sinister if you ask me. The other calls are all legit; a hold as LeBron goes around a screen, a hand across the face of Bron on a layup, and leaving his feet on a Wade layup. All of these could probably have been no calls, but could also have been avoided by KD.

Even if all of these fouls were to get him off the floor in key moments, and the Heat took a lot more free throws, the Thunder really shot themselves in the foot through other dumb mistakes that were not contingent on the officials. Namely, back to back fouls on Heat three pointers (of which the Heat hit all 6 shots) that trimmed a 10 point lead to 4 in about 2 minutes of game time towards the end of the third. Even with the sloppy play on defense and offense by the Thunder they were still within striking distance, but again beat themselves by doing something that was beyond the referee's control: missing foul shots in the fourth quarter. Had they knocked down their shots, not made silly turnovers and stayed composed in crunch time (something that they have mostly been able to do throughout the playoffs), OKC would have won by a few points and the conspiracy theorists could go back to investigating the draft lottery (which actually is fixed) or something until tomorrow night. The truth is the Thunder didn't make enough winning plays, and in a turn of events even more painful for us haters, the Heat did.

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