Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee who spent 11 months in prison for relaying inside information to gamblers, is reviewing the performance of his former colleagues during the NBA Finals. Here's a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Game 7, with video.
The big thing that stands out about the series is how dramatically the officiating changed after the first two games. In Games 1 and 2, the referees handed out fouls like candy — 54 were called in the opener, 58 in the next game. Over the remainder of the series, refs called an average of 44 fouls. What happened? Well, I can say from experience that it had nothing to do with the play on the floor and a lot more to do with what happened in a hotel room the morning of every game.
Here's how it works: In the playoffs, three refs and an alternate meet in a hotel room with a group supervisor before a game. The league office e-mails the supervisor a list of things it wants the officials to concentrate on, and the supervisor relays the message to the refs in their meeting. When I was in the league, the memos — hot off the desks of the likes of Stu Jackson, Ed T. Rush, or Ronnie Nunn — would usually detail what kinds of fouls needed to be better addressed. The message would be something like, Team X is getting away with an enormous amount of handchecking, or Shawn Bradley is hanging out under the basket, not really defending anybody. He's committing a defensive three-second violation. The goal was to set the tone for that night's game and, even more broadly, for the series. An extreme example: the 2005 Dallas-Houston matchup. I was the alternate for Game 3 and sat in on the meeting with the group supervisor. We were told explicitly to start calling moving screens and traveling violations on Yao Ming. (Jeff Van Gundy would later complain publicly that referees were targeting Yao; he got fined for it.) Houston was up 2-0 at that point. Dallas wound up winning in seven games.
So what do I think happened after Games 1 and 2 this year? I'm pretty certain that the message from the league office before Game 3 was to swallow the whistle and cut down on the number of fouls called. To let the games play out, in other words. Throughout the Finals, I've tried to give you some insight into the inherent subjectivity of refereeing a professional basketball game. But the takeaway from this series is that the subjectivity isn't just on the part of the referees. The league itself also has a huge influence in how a series plays out — through those memos and their points of emphasis. Maybe you think it's completely innocent. Maybe you don't. But there's no denying that what the rule book says means a lot less than what the NBA wants at any given moment.
11:36 [TIE 0-0] Andrew Bynum takes a hop, skip, and a jump. No travel is called.
10:00 [LAL 3-2] Great blocks at the hoop. Good job by the officials not calling a foul.
8:07 [LAL 7-6] Rasheed Wallace grabs Kobe Bryant. No foul is called.
4:41 [LAL 11-10] Kevin Garnett holds Pau Gasol on this screen, enabling Ray Allen to free himself and hit the three-pointer.
2:58 [BOS 17-13] Bryant is fouled going to the basket. This is the same type of play that was called an offensive foul on Kobe in Game 2.
2:27 [BOS 17-14] Good call on this offensive foul. Paul Pierce is set, and Gasol runs into and through him.
1:27 [BOS 21-14] Bryant isn't set here. The illegal screen is missed.
1:20 [BOS 21-14] And here's an illegal screen that shouldn't have been called. Lamar Odom runs into Garnett and tries to get to the ballhandler.
11:47 [BOS 23-14] Wallace is fouled on this shot at the hoop. Missed call.
11:24 [BOS 23-16] Wallace goes over the back on this rebound. Missed loose-ball foul.
10:59 [BOS 23-17] This is a good defensive play, not a foul on Sasha Vujacic. Missed call.
5:59 [TIE 25-25] Garnett goes over the back of Farmar, but Farmar's given the foul. Officials are aware that Garnett has two fouls and let this go.
3:15 [TIE 29-29] Ray Allen is out of control on this drive to the basket and trips. This isn't a foul on the defender.
3:03 [BOS 31-29] Good no-call on this drive to the basket. This is good defense, and the referees do a nice job of seeing the play.
:43.6 [BOS 38-33] Good foul call on Wallace for reaching in on this shot.
:34.1 [BOS 38-34] This shouldn't be a foul on Bynum. Pierce is out of control and falls.
:15.2 [BOS 40-34] Bryant is fouled on this jump shot — Allen reaches in. Foul missed.
11:09 [BOS 42-36] Foul is called late, but the official is correct in not awarding Garnett continuation or any free throws. The key is that he gathers the ball and his feet after the foul.
10:25 [BOS 42-36] This foul on Bryant is called by the outside official. The official under the basket is passing on it. An official will often get upset at other referees if they blow a whistle on a play right in front of him. This can spill over in the locker room, and guys actually get mad at each other over this type of call.
8:53 [BOS 47-36] Correct call on this offensive foul. Artest lowers his shoulder into a set defender.
3:08 [BOS 56-47] Not an offensive foul on Bryant. Good no-call. He doesn't go into and through the defender.
2:12 [BOS 56-51] This is not a foul. Shannon Brown gets all ball on Rondo's drive to the basket. Missed call.
11:43 [BOS 57-53] Cheap foul on Gasol's jump shot. I don't see much contact.
10:12 [BOS 57-55] Artest gets hacked on his drive here. Garnett is taking a foul to prevent the lay-up, but the referee is out of position and late getting to the baseline to see the play. This was obvious, though. Someone should have called it.
9:54 [BOS 57-55] Allen throws his shoulder into and through Bryant, an offensive foul that doesn't get called.
7:29 [BOS 61-58] Not a foul on Pierce. He's backing up, and Artest causes the contact. Artest makes the basket and gets a free throw for good measure.
6:49 [BOS 62-61] Good call. Wallace goes over the back of Gasol on this rebound.
4:38 [LAL 68-64] Gasol forces up a shot with the shot clock expiring. The official bails him out by calling this cheap foul. Missed call.
2:47 [LAL 71-68] Gasol drags his pivot foot prior to going up for this shot. Travel missed, and Gasol goes to the line for two free throws.
1:30 [LAL 74-70] Gasol goes up for a jump shot and lands before releasing the ball. Travel missed.
:25.7 [LAL 79-76] Blocking foul called on Wallace. Good call. He's in the circle under the basket.
Tim Donaghy is a former NBA referee and the author of Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA. Follow him on Facebook here.
Video editing by David Matthews.