BOSTON (CBS) — The old saying is that the fans pay to see the players and not the officials, but if Game 1 between the Celtics and Heat was the first basketball game you’ve ever watched, you might think it’s the other way around.
The referee crew of Danny Crawford, Ed Malloy and Jason Phillips made their mark on the game, calling Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers for technical fouls, as well as calling a team technical foul after Kevin Garnett tapped the ball toward the stanchion after a made basket.
While the Rondo tech was one that wasn’t egregious but still couldn’t be argued against, the other three were so suspicious that it has the basketball world wondering if some sort of league-mandated enforcement was at play in order to help the Heat.
Stephen A. Smith used his platform on ESPN, a major broadcast partner of the league, to voice those concerns.
“You have to understand something here,” Smith said on ESPN after the Heat won 93-79, “Ray Allen is one of the classiest individuals in the world. All he did was jump up real quick and get emotional, and he turned and walked away and got a technical foul. Doc Rivers said ‘Come on, Ed,’ to Ed Malloy and he got a technical foul.”
Smith said he had not yet called the league office, but he sees no other explanation for what went on.
“I’ve known a guy like Danny Crawford for years, who I believe was the one who issued that technical foul to Ray Allen. This guy is one of the elite referees in the game,” Smith said. “For the life of me, I can’t understand it. That makes no sense to me. Danny Crawford is a guy that’s been in this game for far too long. Don’t take me that this guy would just arbitrarily decide, ‘I’m going to give Ray Allen a tech for saying no and turning away.’ That’s got to be something that’s coming from the league. It makes no sense to me.”
Smith was not the only ESPN employee to take issue with the calls, as Jeff Van Gundy voiced immediate anger about the technical called on Rivers.
“I’m gonna tell you to stop it about trying to make up a scenario that would make that OK to give him a technical foul,” Van Gundy told play-by-play man Mike Breen. “It doesn’t matter if this was a high school [game], you shouldn’t get a technical foul for that.”
Smith said the technical foul calls had a profound impact on the way the Celtics played the game.
“All of a sudden, you gotta get tight. It zaps you emotionally sometimes when you’re playing that game because you feel you have to guard and monitor every little thing that you do,” he said. “That is ridiculous. It makes no sense whatsoever. And the league really needs to fall back. It’s gotten a bit ridiculous.”
Smith also said the fact that it was Allen and Rivers contributes to the suspicion that something fishy was taking place on Monday.
“Think about who we’re talking about here. This isn’t Metta World Peace,” Smith said. “We’re talking about Ray Allen. We’re talking about Doc Rivers. We’re talking about an absence, an omission, of physical confrontation.
“Ray Allen saying ‘No’ and literally turning away from the referee? I understand [the league] talks about any demonstrative behavior where you’re showing the referee up or whatever the case may be — that does not apply. … For an official to give you a technical over something like that, to say it’s egregious is a gross understatement. They really, really need to fall back. It is ridiculous.”
Rivers, for his part, said the technical foul called on him was the worst he’s ever received in the NBA.
“I would have loved to earn it,” Rivers said.
On ESPN, Smith was direct in his effort to not minimize the issues.
“It was a level of atrocity that should be alarming to all of us,” Smith said.
Consider the alarms sounded.