By Shirley Coshatt
Like most Celtics fans, I have been frustrated with the officiating in the playoffs. I have never been one to blame a loss on the refs, but in the first two series, I would find myself feeling that the outcome of the games had been influenced by the officials. It seemed as through the Celtics were getting mugged every time they went to the basket with no calls and yet on the other end, they would be called for fouls with very little contact. It has been frustrating to watch LeBron pull Pierce’s jersey right in front of the ref and no call. I guess I should be grateful that the refs didn’t give Paul a technical for not having his jersey tucked in. I realize that sometimes when watching a game it may seem more one sided than it is because you notice the fouls on your team more than on opponent but even the ESPN and TNT commentators were mentioning a number of bad calls and non calls. On NBA Daily, Peter Vescey mentioned that he couldn’t understand how the Celtics could outscore the Pistons in the paint by 22 points and yet shoot 6 fewer free throws. When the neutral commentators are noticing it, there has to be a problem.
Doc mentioned the disparity in the free throws for the teams several times in his post game remarks. The fifth game in the Cleveland series particularly stood out as the Cavaliers shot 41 free throws to just 23 for the Celtics. Some fans were quick to defend the difference by explaining that the Celtics simply didn’t get into the paint as much as the Cavs and so didn’t get the calls. This would be a good explanation if it were true. I decided to do some research to see if indeed this was the case.
It would seem that points in the paint would be a good indicator of whether a team was attacking the basket. The team with more points in the paint would be the team going to the basket more aggressively and thus have the better chance of drawing fouls. In the first round series against the Hawks, the free throw discrepancy was very clear in that the Celtics shot 128 free throws to 220 for the Hawks. In that same series, the Celtics scored 288 points in the paint to only 240 for the Hawks. In the pivotal game 6 in Atlanta, the Hawks shot 47 free throws to just 25 for the Celtics, yet the Celtics scored 50 points in the paint to only 38 for the Hawks. This would dispute the conjecture that the Celtics weren’t going to the basket as much as the Hawks.
In the second round against the Cavaliers, the Celtics shot 167 free throws while the Cavs shot 196 free throws. In this series, the Celtics once again got to the basket more in that they had 204 points in the paint while the Cavs had 186. In game 5 of this series that I mentioned above where the Cavs shot 18 more free throws than the Celtics, the Celtics scored 38 points in the paint to 30 for the Cavs. In the pivotal game 6, the Cavs shot 25 free throws to just 13 for the Celtics but yet again, the Celtics scored more points in the paint than their opponent.
Over the first two series the Celtics shot a total of 295 free throws to 416 for their opponents. At the same time, they scored 492 points in the paint compared to 426 for their opponents. This indicates a bias on the part of the referees to call more fouls on the Celtics in spite of the fact that they were the more aggressive team in trying to draw fouls by scoring in the paint.
Only in the Celtics series do we see such a big disparity. In the Pistons first two series, they shot 236 free throws to 396 for their opponents. As would be expected in a fairly officiated series, their opponents also scored more points in the paint ( 236 for the Pistons and 321 for their opponents). In their first two series, the Spurs shot 259 free throws while their opponents shot 287 free throws. As in the Pistons’ series, the team that shot more free throws also had more points in the paint (Spurs 259, opponents 287) In the Lakers’ first two series, they shot 344 free throws to 294 for their opponents while their opponents scored 26 more points in the paint. While this is a disparity, it is nowhere near one that the Celtics had to face.
The numbers in the Celtics’ series are too great to be a coincidence. The media would have us believe that the league wants a Lakers-Celtics finals but the way the officials have called the Celtics games, you would never know it. Do the referees have a personal agenda as Tim Donaghy did? Or, do they just subconsciously (or even consciously) dislike the Celtics because they are the favorites? We may never know the motives or then again, we may be reading about another officiating scandal this summer. In the meantime, the Celtics have to continue to play 5 on 8 and win in spite of it.