Why Spurs fans should forgive Joe Crawford (and the other referees too)


May 5, 2010; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NBA referee Joe Crawford (left) yells to Phoenix Suns forward (3) Jared Dudley and San Antonio Spurs guard (9) Tony Parker in the fourth quarter in game two in the western conference semifinals of the 2010 NBA playoffs at the US Airways Center. The team is wearing "Los Suns" jerseys on Cinco de Mayo in response to an anti-immigration law recently passed in Arizona. The Suns defeated the Spurs 110-102. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

It wasn’t their fault. I’m talking about the referees that presided over Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals of course. You can point to the free throw disparity in favor of Oklahoma City or Kevin Durant’s 13 free throw attempts in the second half as indicators that officiating significantly impacted the game. I agree with you. The egregious calls on Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker left an indelible impression in my mind and, frankly, those plays could have altered the result of the game.

The referees did make an impact, more than they probably should have. But they weren’t the sole reason the San Antonio Spurs were bounced from the playoffs. They were part of the picture but, ultimately, the Spurs’ defense and deficient bench production played a much bigger role in Oklahoma City’s clinching victory.

So, please. Don’t blame the referees. It’s a rather poor way to analyze the aftermath of a basketball game and incredibly naive. It devalues the Thunder’s accomplishments. It gives the Spurs incentive to make mistakes. And it doesn’t factor in the inherent difficulty in officiating a game played at a blistering pace, with volatile environments and elite athletes that are adept at altering the perception of a basketball play.

There were some calls that I believe were questionable at best. You can imagine my language as I was watching these calls unfold in real time. It was, to say the least, a lot different than it is right now.

The Stephen Jackson technical was absolutely disgraceful. Granting Russell Westbrook another free throw for simply kicking his legs backwards is just as bad. While they made the correct call on Manu’s pivotal charge that would have cut the lead to one point, the rule just doesn’t make any sense. How do they reasonably expect Manu to contort his body around the interior defenders after delivering a pinpoint pass on the perimeter? It’s called momentum. Look it up.

But those calls are beside the point even though, technically, they represent five points that shouldn’t have belonged to Oklahoma City.

It sucks and it’s easy to blame officiating for apparent flaws in the Spurs defense. As Spurs fans we don’t want to accept that the beloved team we watched this season was either inferior, flawed or incapable of making the correct adjustments to combat the Thunder attack. It’s a lot easier to pin the loss on the referees. A defense mechanism, if you will.

Did the officials allow the Thunder to shoot 57.6% from the field in the second half? Did the officials follow up a 64-point half with 36 points and 32.5% shooting? Did the officials disappear when their team needed them most like Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter? The answer to those questions is a resounding no.

So, at the end of the day, I’m going to forgive Joe Crawford, Bill Kennedy and Rodney Mott for their admittedly poor performance in Game 6. They seemed more inclined to call fouls for Oklahoma City but a basketball game doesn’t need an equal 50/50 split to be deemed a fair game. Oklahoma City posted the highest free throw rate in the league. They have shown the ability to draw fouls and put the opposition in a poor situation over the course of the entire year. Their elite athleticism makes it considerably difficult for the officials to make the correct call consistently. These officials have to A) find a favorable angle to watch the play unfold, B) deem contact as either inconsequential or legitimate and C) decipher the intent of basketball players flying around at warp speed … all in real time. It’s an arduous, unforgiving job.

I think it would only be fair to them to reconcile, respect the discrepancies in their officiating as a normal, unpreventable occurrence rather than a blatant attempt at sabotaging the Western Conference Finals. The latter option is highly unlikely.

(Or so I keep telling myself.)