38-10

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 9, 2008 at 4:51 AM

That's called The Stern Button. 38-10 on the free throw margin. Really? That's impossible. When Kobe Bryant is on one team, and two of the three offensive stars for the other team are exclusively jump shooters, 38-10 should never ever happen. That's outrageous. That's a travesty.

I shouldn't make reference to The Stern Button, though. Even if he was in the stands. I don't actually think the league or the referees are corrupt. I just think they're incompetent. Everyone loves Bob Delaney because of his FBI background, but is he a good referee? Not in this game he wasn't. Who made the preposterous call on Ronny Turiaf's block on the Celtic fast break? Who completely missed Kobe getting slapped across the arm on at least three occasions driving to the basket? Who refused to blow the whistle while Pau was getting mercilessly hacked under the basket as time ran out in the first half? I don't know if it was Delaney, Crawford, or the third guy, but whoever it was ought to hang their heads in shame. As usual, calls were missed on the other side as well, notably Radmanovic traveling on his way to a dunk after the late-game steal, and Jordan Farmar swiping Leon Powe across the arm as he threw down a dunk to end the third quarter. But when the referees are incompetent, which is a given, and the result is a 38-10 free throw margin, which is a factual truth, the conclusion is that the guys in gray screwed the road team. And how many times have we heard that in the NBA?

They weren't the only reason the Lakers lost, of course. Leon Powe might as well retire now, because he'll never have a game this good again. The Lakers couldn't do anything to disturb Rajon Rondo, and they have to fix that going back to L.A. Boston was absurdly hot from three-point range, hitting something like 75% of those shots. Derek Fisher's shot was off. Vlad-Rad made some boneheaded plays. And my god say it ain't so, but Doc Rivers actually coached a good game: he stopped a couple of Laker runs with well-placed timeouts and he played the guys who should have been playing: Rondo basically went the distance instead of Sam Cassell getting siginficant time, Powe played many more minutes than usual, and James Posey, who played well, doing the kinds of things he does (threes and defense), got a fair amount of time as well.

But look, two of the reasons I've mentioned are not going to be repeated (the threes and Powe), and one of them probably won't happen in L.A. (the free throws). Given that the Lakers ended up losing by single digits, any one of those things going differently results in a completely different game. Now, that's not the way to think about it necessarily, because unless the Lakers are down by 26 in the fourth quarter, they don't make that crazy run that they end up making. Instead maybe they're down 12 the entire way or something. That said, the game was close until the closing minutes of the third, when the Celtics went on a run that put them up a ton, making the game look like a rout. Before that, the Lakers were down something like six or ten. If you subtract two threes from the Celtics and close the free throw gap by about 10 (in which case the Celtics would still have been getting the overwhelming number of calls), you've got a Laker lead.

The problem with all of this complaining is that it doesn't change the reality, which is that the Lakers are down 0-2. This means they absolutely must win all three games at home. Given the weakness this Celtics team has shown in the playoffs, that's utterly possible. But it still must be done. Assuming the referees are as incompetent in Games 3-5 as they were in One and Two, I think it's a fair prediction to say that the Lakers will, in fact, win all three of these games at home. That's even if Leon Powe actually sells his soul again, and even if Pau Gasol still doesn't figure out how to box Kevin Garnett out.

And I'm not sure the refs even need to be awful in L.A. Again, look at this game. A twenty-eight free-throw advantage for the Celtics, a 20+ point lead with half of the fourth quarter gone, and they still have to win in the final minute? This is your potential NBA champion? Come on.

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