I'm going to give my normal review of the game, and within that context, there'll be an extended description of the events that took place in the third quarter--as well as prior and subsequent events that adversely affected the integrity of this game.
I'm not a professional journalist, though in the reviews I strive for accuracy if not total impartiality. But if this is an example of what we may expect from NBA officials in future games, then maybe we should direct our attention--and our money--elsewhere until the NBA cleans up it's act.
The Celtics learned that they would be without the services of Tony Battie for this game after kicking a basketball in the direction of the officials during last Monday's game against Orlando. I reamed him out for his actions in my review of that game. Nice to know the NBA is keeping strict discipline. Sometimes.
The Suns came to Boston with a 1-7 road record and had played so half-heartedly that when asked what his feelings were at seeing former teammate Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce had to think about it and admit he'd forgotten that Joe had been traded to Phoenix last season. Give you an idea how scared the C's are of ol' Joe.
In any event, this meant that Vin
Baker had reached the moment we were all waiting for--to play in the starting
lineup. Coach Jim O'Brien--seemingly in direct response to comments
on the Celtics lists I'm on--stated he was pleased with Baker's improvement,
particularly on defense. The key would be if he could keep out of
early foul trouble.
The game began very nicely as Walker proved to have a hot hand by opening up a 3-0 lead for the Good Guys, followed quickly by Tony Delk scoring a hoop against his old team. I betcha HE remembered that Joe Johnson was coming to town.
The Suns were running quickly but ineffectively, as they were helpless to stop Pierce, Walker, and the rest of the C's as they built a lead. The Suns seemed content to shoot outside jumpers. The C's meanwhile, were combining deadly outside shooting with trips into the hoop to seemingly score at will.
There was an amusingly ironic defensive stand with 8:36 left, as Vin Baker made a nice block on Hardaway, though the rebound came back and Pierce tried the same block--getting called for the kind of foul that Baker usually gets. Pierce would be treated like a rookie all night. The only good thing about the Suns many, many trips to the line was that they were really rotten shots.
Baker then went and made a nice move to the hoop for two of his own. He was making the kind of moves we've all been waiting to see, and I had a good feeling about Vinnie at this point. About the only thing I didn't like is he sometimes drifts too far outside on the offensive side--at least compared with the way Battie normally loiters under the hoop. It sometimes leads to getting boxed out on a potential offensive rebound.
The upshot of the first half of the opening quarter was that the Celtics were outplaying the Suns at both ends of the floor and when a timeout was called with 6:29 to go, the C''s were shooting at an 80% clip and held the lead with a score of 20-9.
The rookie Stoudemire was making physical moves and getting veteran calls.
Pierce was crashing the boards early on--including a two handed takedown--which was nice to see after the last couple of games. I hoped it would be contagious.
The first real sign of officiating trouble came with 5:01 to go as Baker got a nice feed under the hoop from Pierce and was clearly fouled while going up for the shot--yet it was called as an out of bounds play. Then Pierce took it in himself and was fouled twice with no call. The ball came out to Walker who's shot bounced into the waiting hands of Baker--who was fouled twice more himself as he made the putback. That's five fouls not called on three players on the same possession.
And that was just the beginning.
On the next play, Baker was hacked to the court with no call as Pierce eventually recovered the loose ball--then was dropped to the deck by a double team just at the foul line. The refs felt obligated to acknowledge that perhaps someone had improperly impeded Pierce's progress. Not that it got any free throws attempted. The Celtics had to settle for Bruno Sundov coming in and getting two rebounds on the play to secure a hoop for the Good Guys.
Pierce picked off an "alley-oops" and got sideswiped at halfcourt. No, no free throws. The Suns took advantage of the largesse to close the gap. Tony Delk got hammered with no call and Pierce literally got run over--and guess who was called for a foul?
It was clear--even taking personal bias into account--that the Suns were being given considerably more latitude than the Celtics, to the extent that they were getting away with progressively harder fouls.
In the meantime, Walker had hit double figures with 10 points in the first, which closed out with the Celtics leading 28-22.
The C's shooting percentage dropped
in concert with the upswing in non-calls to 48% vs. 41% for the Suns.
Boston also held a 14-11 rebounding edge. The three was falling at
a 50% clip, 4-8. All was well so far, despite the obvious fact that
the C's would catch no breaks on fouls tonight, as the Suns benefited from
the three extra guys on their team. That was the only reason the
lead was in single digits.
The quarter opened up with the Suns still taking--and missing--outside jumpers. The C's were picking up more rebounds. Joe Johnson made his presence known by fouling someone pretty quick--must have been a rouse to make the Celtics complacent. :>) Eric Williams missed one of his free throws--of the pitiful few attempts the C's got all game. Sigh.
Meanwhile, the C's were getting called for reach in fouls. It's not that they were phantom fouls--in this case, Waltah! did foul the guy--but they weren't being called both ways. That resulted in Kedrick Brown making his entrance into the game, as Walker hit another shot.
Baker continued to move well, and started drawing fouls. I don't want to say he's playing more "daintily" but he certainly was avoiding the foul calls he normally picked up fast. He even hit both of his free throws (YAY!!!!!!!)
Kedrick showed his speed was better than I thought, and that raised my hopes that he would be a factor in games before too long. He had a nice rebound and pass to Walker, then a block on the next play.
Then, Baker got called for a phantom foul, prompting Heinsohn to yell "This is ridiculous! The Suns are getting every damn break!" But after a timeout Vinnie took it to the hoop for two on the next C's possession. By this time, Baker had 8 points on 3-5 shooting with 2 rebounds.
The Suns continued to have their hands on Pierce to such an extent that he should have told them to cool it until the second date. As half of the quarter had passed, the C's maintained their lead at 40-34.
The Celtics showed they could run a fast pass inside for a quick two on several possessions. If Battie had been playing, he'd have had a monster night.
Yet the Suns made just enough of their shots--with some official help--that the C's couldn't really extend the lead despite solid work. One of the few correct calls came when Baker drew an offensive foul--he must have enjoyed being on the other side of that for a change.
Then Bruno stole the ball! Wow... on the next play he took a rebound and made the outlet pass that led to another easy inside two. Heinsohn pointed out that the Suns never checked the outlet man.
Bruno showed that he's getting the hang of playing inside on defense. He might end up being a really decent player if he does that to Jim O'Brien's expectations.
The half came to an end with the Good Guys having extended their lead a bit to 56-48.
At this point, despite incompetent officiating, the C's were on top of things. Had the game been called properly to this time, the C's would likely have had a double digit lead. Baker's play was more foul free than I'd hoped, and Kedrick adn Bruno had made pointed, if short, contributions.
Both teams had upped their percentage--Boston to 50% and Phoenix to 44%. The C's had cooled off from the arc, now at 5-13 while the Suns were 1-8. Phoenix had been given a rebounding edge of 24-22 and more 2nd chance points with 11-4, also an early Christmas gift. But they gave in return with a 10-6 lead in turnovers. Boston held a 30-28 edge in paint points with the Suns being shown they could do whatever they wanted underneath without fear of being called for fouls.
The key would be for the Celtics to try to play smart and open up the floor to reduce any chance of fouls being improperly called. At this point, Boston was in control and needed only to keep up the pressure.
The quarter opened as the C's went a bit dry from the field. This coincided as the Suns started hitting some of those outside shots. The C's played good defense and moved the ball well. They went inside. The shots just didn't go in. It's that third quarter drought that the C's seem to have frequently.
Mike Gorman commented that the Suns had read the scouting report as they actually got hold of one of those corner passes to Delk. Nice to know someone was paying attention out there.
But then the game spun totally out of control with 9:14 left in the third. Pierce went in to the hoop on the offensive end, and as he went up, arms extended straight up to put the ball in, he was fouled from behind and slammed face first into the floor. He tried to get up, and couldn't. He was in obvious agony. No foul was called on the defender. Jim O'Brien complained loudly to official Scott Wall and was ejected. Walker was also hit with a technical foul. and Tony Delk was called for a foul.
Pierce was still on the floor, bleeding. He had to be gently helped to his feet and held up on both side as they took him to the locker room.
The Suns also ended up with possession of the ball as the officials lost control of the game.
This turn of events allowed the Suns to close the gap and then take the lead. It helped that Phoenix was literally allowed to take a hop, skip and a jump to the hoop for two without a travelling call. Phoenix had made a 14-2 run. With considerable help.
A timeout was called by Boston as people contemplated stuffing the refs into the basket. Tom Heinsohn was literally speechless--no doubt to avoid using words frowned on by the FCC.
The C's brought the game to a tie, but several hacks against Tony Delk prevented that on the next possession. He made up for it with a three on the next trip.
But the Suns kept pushing it up, and most of the quarter had passed with no word on Pierce's condition.
Walker was called for a delay of game for not turning around and picking up the ball and handing it to an official--presumably the refs didn't want to do ANY part of their job.
But with just under 3 minutes to go, it was reported that Pierce had suffered damage to his teeth and nose. Following a timeout, he was back on the Boston bench, to the great relief of Celtics fans everywhere--and, I have no doubt, his family.
The score was now tied at 66, and Pierce returned to the court to a deserved standing "O". Eric Williams took a free throw to give Boston a 1 point lead.
At this point, Baker made a foul--that was called a flagrant foul. There's a word to describe that turn of events--
--and sometimes you just have to call it for what it is.
For anyone offended by the profanity, it was an extraordinary situation, calling for an extraordinary description. The "T" free throw was missed at least. But then Shammond was called for the groping foul that no one had called on Phoenix all night.
The Celtics, despite good play and
hard work, couldn't do more than seesaw the lead through the end of the
quarter. The third quarter ended with a tie score of 72.
They opened the fourth with an ironic pregame talk with Pierce about people playing him harder this year and how he felt he'd just have to be mentally tougher and get back up and play. At this rate, he might have to start carrying a hockey stick and defend himself.
Walker kept working hard to help the C's scoring as Pierce was obviously still feeling the effects of the injury. I'm NOT a doctor, but the way he looked as they zoomed in on his face, squinting to see, I wonder if he has a concussion.
The C's just couldn't seem to clamp down defensively like they had lately, partly due to the "officiating" and partly that they were looking tired after having to literally fight their way to the hoop on several occasions.
Pierce showed he could still find the hoop, and Vin Baker came out to finish the game. Eric Williams couldn't find the range from outside late in the game. The C's looked tired, something that hadn't happened in a long time. I think that everything just caught up to them as someone figured out how to stop Boston when they played well--try to cripple one star and wear the other one out. And no, I'm not referring to the Phoenix Suns.
Shammond missed a wide-open three. Baker got a tough rebound back out to Shammond who missed again. The Suns no longer needed help to win. The Celtics were running out of gas after a really tough game. Walker kept pushing to keep the C's in the game by hitting shots, but the defense just wasn't able to stop the Suns anymore. They couldn't keep trading baskets, it would only be a matter of time before the Suns had a run. With 4:00 to go, Phoenix had a 2 point lead, and then Walker was called for an offensive foul--after he was fouled.
That was the last straw, as the Suns stretched the lead to 4--when Pierce got hammered AGAIN. By this time, I don't think he knew what planet he was on.
A clean steal by Walker was called a foul, sending the Suns to the line yet again. The Suns, at this time, went to the line 19 times. The Celtics went for 9 free throws.
With 3 minutes left, the Suns led by 5 points, and were looking to extend, which they did.
Vin Baker was surprised to find his offensive rebound mysteriously turned into an offensive foul. So was everyone who saw the replay. I say "surprised" as in--"How did that happen?", not as in "What a shock that it was called that way!"
By the time there was less then 90 seconds left in the game, the C's were reduced to using the same ploy Orlando had tried a couple of days ago, by fouling every possession to gamble that the free throw shooting of the suns--which was horrible--would allow the C's a last-ditch attempt to win the game.
Walker fouled out of the game, which was probably for the best. It lessened the chances of him hauling off and belting the official.
Phoenix hit just enough to extend their lead despite Boston's best efforts. I must say, it was an impressive early Christmas present from the officials.
The game--and the sham--ended with
a final score of 103-94. I hope the Suns at least send a thank you
card to the refs.
After the game, Coach O'Brien took the high road and didn't comment on the refs, saying instead that the C's were outplayed. I don't often disagree with him, but the phrase is "The Celtics were taken for a ride by the refs." I would give two cookies to have a tape of O'Brien's comments in the "Cs locker room between the time he was ejected and the postgame conference.
I want to emphasize that I don't blame the Suns for this--they simply took advantage of what was handed them on a silver platter by three very helpful refs. Though they should be embarrassed to refer to this as a "win", instead of a "gift".
HEROES AND ZEROES:
Paul Pierce: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and an assist. Plus coming back after having his face slammed into the floor with nothing from the refs but their expressed wish for a "Merry Christmas" made to the Celtics bench. Good thing Red is in D.C. these days, or he'd have slam dunked his cane down Scott Wall's throat.
Antoine Walker: 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Plus great restraint in not tying the refs arms into a knot.
Vin Baker: 8 points, 8 rebounds, and a block while doing his best against horrendous officiating.
Tony Delk: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal.
Jim O'Brien: For not making it worth getting tossed by levelling Scott Wall with a haymaker. Obie's a class act.
Tom Heinsohn: For his superhuman
effort not to tell everybody watching TV exactly what he thought of the
refs in this game. Some comments just aren't appropriate for everyone
Sean Corbin: for poor officiating
Ken Maurer: for really poor officiating
and Scott Wall: Where's the guy who tried to throttle the ref back in the 76 playoffs against Phoenix? We need to introduce him to Scott.
The Phoenix Suns free throw shooting: The officials give you a gift of 33 free throws to the Celtics 9 and you only make 22. That's not treating your presents nicely.
The Celtics must get it back together again for Friday's game against Cleveland...
...or will that matter, Mr. Stern?
That's the view from the doghouse.
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