We can’t see the Boston Celtics. Their shocking and amazing run in the Eastern Conference finals has been blotted out by the stars of these NBA playoffs — Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Joey Crawford, Bill Kennedy, Derrick Stafford, Ed Malloy, Dan Crawford and Flop City.
You don’t recognize those last six names? Sure you do. Their names trend on Twitter on a nightly basis. They’re cussed and discussed on talk radio on a daily basis. They’re the newest, biggest stars of the NBA. They’re turning what should be a showcase of what is right and good about the NBA into an advertisement for what is wrong with the league.
They’re NBA refs and their trusty foil, the whistle-baiting, soccer-ploy flopping.
The refs and The Flop have squeezed Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers and Celtics Pride to the back of the playoff storylines. I get that the Heat’s collapse and the on-court fraying of James and Wade are more fascinating than the Boston dinosaurs rising up to rule the East.
But it’s a tragedy that the league’s most historic franchise is taking a backseat to the men in striped shirts.
The refs and The Flop are the reason I have tremendous apprehension about Thursday’s Celtics-Heat Game 6. I’m afraid the highly skilled, highly compelling players won’t decide this elimination contest and the refs and Oscar-worthy acting will.
Wednesday night, Durant and the Thunder extinguished the Spurs, rallying from an 18-point deficit to win 107-99. Durant was remarkable. He played all 48 minutes. He scored 34 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, handed out five assists, blocked two shots and snatched a steal.
Rondo and James have put together more impressive stat lines, but no one has played better during these playoffs than Durant did Wednesday. His combination of movement without the ball and ability to put the ball on the floor to create his own shot and open looks for others was the best I’ve seen since Michael Jordan in his prime. Durant was Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen and Chris Paul rolled into one 6-foot-9 package.
He so frustrated the Spurs that tiny Tony Parker tried to match Durant shot for shot and play for play. After a 7-for-9, 16-point, six-assist first quarter, Parker made a fool of himself the last three quarters, jacking difficult shots early in the shot clock and taking his teammates, particularly Manu Ginobili, out of rhythm. Parker hit five of 18 shots the final 36 minutes.
Durant’s destruction of Parker should’ve been the lone storyline. It wasn’t. Joe Crawford, Bill Kennedy and Randy Mott took over the fourth quarter with their whistles. They called five fouls on the Spurs in less than four minutes, putting the Thunder in the bonus with 8:19 to play. On a night when both teams looked for shots in the paint, the Thunder shot 31 free throws and the Spurs attempted 18.
OKC outplayed San Antonio and deserved the victory. But the officiating was horrendous. Given Joe Crawford’s well-documented history with Tim Duncan, it’s incredulous that Crawford is assigned to Spurs games.
The officiating in the Eastern Conference finals has been every bit as bad. The Celtics can pretty much plan on getting at least two technical fouls Thursday night.
I’m not charging conspiracy. I’m charging incompetence. I’m charging out-of-control egos. The refs view themselves as stars. I’m blaming HD TVs. Seriously. You think the Kardashians are the only people in love with fame? Most of America wants to be a reality-TV star, and you think these old men don’t love their celebrity?
This is going to sound crazy, but I’d make all refs — basketball and football — wear masks. Make ’em numbers instead of names. No. 19 could control his ego better than Joe Crawford and his NFL equivalent, Ed Hochuli.
Now, I’m not putting the whole thing on the refs. The Flop is absolutely ruining basketball and making the game far more difficult to officiate. The best athletes in the world fall down spectacularly at the mere thought of contact. Between the flops and the constant glares and whining of the players, the refs are constantly under high stress.
The solution is an instant-replay official who works in conjunction with the refs on the floor. The instant-replay ref should review all potential flops and reward the victim of a flop two free throws. The free throws could be awarded after every dead-ball timeout. Yes, it’s a judgment call, but so are technical fouls. And flopping must be stopped.
Basketball isn’t soccer. Basketball doesn’t want to be soccer. Basketball is a wonderfully fluid game played by the most breathtaking athletes in the world. Flopping is getting in the way of fans appreciating that.
We can’t appreciate the beauty of what the Celtics are potentially pulling off because of all the flopping bodies and bloated egos in our way. Yes, James and Wade flop and have bloated egos, but I’m mostly talking about the refs.