I want to predicate this rant by saying that I am not bitching and griping about the Raptors getting beat. The Cavaliers were the better team by far and I expected them to win the series. It’s the unofficial help they got to win the series that was the problem.
Cleveland has LeBron James, the Raptors do not. This fact, along with the obvious implications of television ratings in the toilet with a Toronto-based team in the NBA finals was certainly enough for the NBA to pray for a Cavaliers series win. I don’t blame them for that. It would be LeBron’s sixth straight finals appearance, he is clearly the best and most popular player in the league and in a time when every cent of revenue is important, they should want the Cavs to win. Unfortunately, whether or not Commissioner David Silver was aware, there was a very clear agenda for the referees working the series: do what you can to make sure LeBron has every advantage to win.
This is not a conspiracy theory because it was evident and witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people. The Raptors ranked 4th in the league in the regular season when it came to causing opponents to draw fouls. Cleveland was 12th. Yet, somehow after the first three games of the series, the Raptors had been called for 73 fouls and the Cavs only 46. That’s not just disparaging, it’s practically impossible. With the benefit of replay on television, I personally saw contact on numerous plays that were not whistled, yet when LeBron got the ball, a whistle was blown at the sight of his jersey rippling from player movement on the court. The Raptors did not do themselves any favors by playing poorly in many games and having to go the distance in the first two series which put the pressure on them to play better and attack the rim. When they weren’t getting calls, they predictably went back to their jump-shooting tendencies and handed Cleveland the first two games.
After handily winning game 3 despite the non-calling of fouls, Coach Casey was fined $25,000 after the game for criticizing the refs. Usually, by going public and putting the refs on notice, the pendulum tends to swing a little more balanced the next game. Saying it did not balance out may be the understatement of the year. The Cavs were not called for a SINGLE penalty in the entire first half! The first whistle against them came early in the 3rd quarter while in that same span, the Raptors were called for seven fouls. The pundits who refute this theory point out that in the 2nd half of that game, the Raps went to the line nine times to Cleveland’s two but at that point, all it did was pull them even in foul line visits for the game. There was no massive reversal in the Raptors’ fortune. It was the perfect time for the refs to slowly even things out without looking desperate or guilty. During half-time they could have talked with each other about it and decided they needed to consciously make a change or they could have gotten a call from the NBA insisting they needed to swing the other way. Obviously something happened and it wasn’t just the Raptors all of a sudden getting aggressive after three-and-a-half games.
There is absolutely no proof that had the foul calls been even in the first three games that the outcome would have been different. I don’t think it would have been. The Cavs have a highly talented, very expensive and veteran-laden roster that is ready to win now. The Raptors have a group of hard workers and no superstars who beat teams as a group by picking each other up. The NBA did not need a catalyst to ensure the better team got through but there was one there anyway. Maybe David Silver knew, maybe he didn’t but he can not argue the evidence that was presented on television. Tim Donaghy was not the first referee to take a bribe and help change the outcome of a game. He was just the first to get caught and acknowledge it. Certainly not a Sepp Blatter kind-of-guy.
FIFA is known worldwide as the ultimate picture of corruptness in sport, mostly due to the reign of Blatter as president. With basketball clearly the second-most played sport in the world, it is only a matter of time until the corruption seeps in. I thought we would first see it on an international level like the Olympics or World Championships but clearly the NBA has been tapped as a testing ground to see how effectively referees can affect the momentum of a game.
While it is a shame that this is happening, it is not surprising and in the end, that is the worst part of the whole thing.