A couple of weeks ago, the NBA decided it wanted to get $1 million from Tim Donaghy as reimbursement for their investigation into his gambling (and also a little something… you know… for the effort). Donaghy's lawyers responded by dropping a bombshell that refs fixed past playoff games… and they did it right before the biggest game… of the biggest finals in years… with 2 of the top 7 television markets tuning in.
Suddenly, the top story on morning talk radio is Tim Donaghy… not Celtics-Lakers. ESPN's SportsNation is asking if people believe the 2002 Lakers-Kings series was fixed… and 76% are saying "yes" right now. It is a scandal that could be as big as steroids in baseball… in that people are starting to ask if outside agencies need to investigate… and if Congress needs to hold hearings.
And oh, by the way, what was the biggest story line coming out of Game 2? The free throw disparity.
So here we are, heading into Game 4, and suddenly "Pierce-Garnett shooting woes" and "will Gasol or Odom show up" have been bumped down to the middle of the list of things most people are now watching for. Everything on the list before those now have to do with the officials.
Now the question is… how will this affect the rest of this series?
The referees aren't just under the magnifying glass now… they're the plastic army men I used to set up on the side walk… a split-second before I trained that beam of magnified sunlight onto their unsuspecting heads. How will they react?
Will they live up to the perception that the superstars get all the calls? That the home team gets the benefit of the doubt? That the NBA will do what it needs to do to extend a series and maximize profit?
Or will the refs call this one right down the middle… and a foul is a foul… whether it gets Kobe Bryant or Glen Davis in foul trouble or not. Could tonight be the night where Kobe gets a couple of offensive fouls early while trying to be aggressive? Will an over-emotional KG get tossed on a second technical? Will Paul Pierce and Derek Fisher each end the game with 8 turnovers because the refs are calling every travelling violation?
And if the refs decide to make sure the fouls are all even and there isn't even a hint of the appearance of impropriety… who does it benefit? My feeling would be that if all things are equal, then its simply a matter of the better team winning… and I think that has clearly been the Celtics so far in this series. But it will be interesting to see.