We now have our NBA Finals set and it's a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals. In that infamous series, the Heat were basically given the series on a silver platter by the referees. Dallas was up 2-0 in the series and led Miami in the third quarter of game 3 at which point Miami made a miracle comeback to win the game. Dwayne Wade went to the line 18 times in that comeback.
Miami won game 4 handily to tie the series up at 2-2.
In that game, though, Jerry Stackhouse was called for a flagrant foul on Shaquille O'Neal that resulted in a suspension for Game 5. Mavericks officials called the suspension of Stackhouse, who was a key player, unfair. Shaq publicly said that the Stackhouse foul was not flagrant and didn't deserve a suspension, but it was yet another way that David Stern and the officials manipulated this series.
Miami won game 5 in overtime. In this game, Dwyane Wade shot as many free throws as all the Mavericks combined. In fact, Wade set an NBA Finals record for the most free throws made in a finals game as he made 21 of 25 free throws. The game ended with a very controversial play in which Wade committed a backcourt violation that wasn't called and then hit the game-winning free throws with 1.9 seconds left. The Heat shot 49 free throws to just 25 for the Mavericks in this game.
In game 6, Wade once again was given an unusually large number of free throws. Wade shot 21 free throws while the entire Dallas team shot 23. The Heat as a team shot 37 free throws. Several of the Mavs players were in foul trouble throughout the game.
Of course Mark Cuban cried foul about the free throw disparity and the multitude of blown calls in this series. After the end of game 6, Cuban was heard yelling at David Stern, who was sitting courtside:
“[Bleep] you! [Bleep] you! Your league is rigged!”
He was later fined a quarter of a million dollars for this outburst.
Knowledgeable fans of every team saw the terrible calls and felt that the Heat was handed the title by the league for whatever reason. Tracy McGrady, who is a good friend of Shaq's and had no reason to side against the Heat other than the truth, also felt that the series was rigged in favor of the Heat. Here is a quote from an interview with Tracy soon after the Finals ended:
Interviewer: Was it a little ridiculous how Dwyane Wade
got all the calls?
TMac: Yeah, yeah it really was. I'll tell you man, it
seems if you were watching that game, seemed like it was
rigged. Seriously. I know the NBA.... (cut off by
Interviewer: You just got fined (sarcastically)
TMac: I dont care. So what? But yeah it seemed like it
was rigged. With all the calls he was getting. Jesus. Did
you hear me? We are talking about the NBA Finals, I wish
I could say I was just kidding, and thats what it seemed
That was then and this is now. We are about to have a rematch of this series. You would think that after a massive betting scandal in the NBA and added scrutiny on the officiating, there would be no question about the calls in this year's playoffs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The officiating in these playoffs has been among the worst in memory. The Miami Heat, in every series has been the recipient of some very charitable calls and non-calls that have led to wins for them. .
I had written a review of Tim Donaghy's book Personal Foul last summer. If you haven't read that book, you really should. Some of the stories that Tim tells in that book are very eye opening as to the way the NBA has fostered the culture of corruption among it's referees. If you watch many games, you will clearly see instances of what he talks about all the time. Tim has been following these playoffs and has done a good job of pointing out instances where the officiating has been very suspect at best and corrupt at worst. An example of this is his take on the officiating of game 1 between Boston and Miami.
If you suffered through the first meeting between Boston and Miami, then you witnessed the most horribly officiated game in the 2011 Playoffs, so far. There was nothing consistent about it and several of the plays illustrate this point. The flagrant foul called on O’Neal was not even close to a flagrant, and it gave Miami two free throws and the ball, resulting in a five point play. Next, when Pierce pump-faked and got James Jones in the air, Jones came down with his arms around Pierce’s neck. That play was called a two-shot foul instead of the flagrant that it deserved, and when Pierce went after Jones, they got off-setting technical fouls. Then, when Dwyane Wade threw an elbow into Pierce’s stomach, that was about ten times as fierce than O’Neal’s previous foul, Pierce reacted verbally, received another technical and was ejected. While I don’t know what Pierce said to Wade and the officials, the protocol for handling a player with one technical in a Playoff game is to make sure that he deserved to be ejected beyond all doubt. If Pierce can be accused of reacting too quickly with his tongue, then officials most certainly should be called out for acting with disproportionate speed with his whistle! Ejecting Pierce in Miami was an easy result for the officials but trust me, it would have never happened in Boston. All at a time when Pierce started hitting three-point jump shots and when the team started heating up! Every time the Celtics started a successful run, the refs put an end to it.
Tim posts his thoughts on the Finals matchup in his latest blog:
This matchup is turning into David Stern’s worst nightmare, as the league knows that Mark Cuban is going to be watching the officials like a hawk. Any call that does not comply with the officiating rules, as written, will be met with a huge outcry from the entire city of Dallas generally, and from Mark Cuban, specifically and loudly. Cuban will simultaneously bitch about botched calls and point out missed calls to anyone who will listen. Stern is already losing sleep over how to keep Cuban quiet.
The owner of the Heat, Mickey Arison, has Stern’s private cell phone number, and Stern always takes his call. Cuban, on the other hand, is dealt with by other league executives who can talk in circles without giving him a real answer to the hard questions.
The key to this series is going to be the officiating, from start to finish. Miami’s physical style of defense always challenges the rules and if they are allowed to be as aggressive using their hands on defense, it’s going to be hard for Dallas to compete. If the rules are fairly applied and enforced the way they are written, Dallas has the best chance of a ring in the history of the franchise! And unlike 2006, any way you slice it, I don’t see Dwyane Wade walking off with the MVP title again.
David Stern has set up the system so that no one dares question his referees. If they do, they know that they will be fined, or in some way retaliated against. To illustrate his point about the calls that have gone Miami's way with no outcry from the press or anyone else, Tim offers the video below.
I don't know if the Mavericks have a chance in this game or not. Is Dallas a good enough team to win playing 5 on 8? Will the public scrutiny on this series because of the controversy still swirling about the 2006 series be enough to assure Dallas a fair shot? Is this the kind of payback that Stern arranges to "make up" to Cuban for what his minions did to Dallas in 2006? Does Mark Cuban have some kind of "dirt" on Stern to blackmail him into a fairly called series? It's anyone's guess how this will play out. Stay tuned, it's sure to be an interesting series.