Referee issues in Orlando

May, 19, 2010
5/19/10
12:40
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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It's a good day for the NBA when everyone is talking about close-fought playoff basketball, where LeBron James will land and which players will go where in the draft.

But a lot of the scuttlebutt today is about something less appealing: Referees.

The NBA is investigating an incident in which referee Joe DeRosa had some kind of altercation with a fan at halftime. But that's just the start.

Game 2 between the Magic and the Celtics had three other officiating features that could resonate.

Dwight Howard at risk of suspension
Dwight Howard's flagrant foul in the second quarter was a blow to Paul Pierce's head. The league reviews all flagrant fouls and expects to come to a conclusion about that on Wednesday. Blows to the head in the past have often resulted in one game suspensions, including Howard himself for an incident against the Sixers last year. Orlando is down 2-0, and no matter what happens, Howard is going to have to be careful going forward. This was Howard's first flagrant of the postseason, so the flagrant 1 he got Tuesday night gives him his first "playoff flagrant point," as it were. If it's upgraded to a flagrant 2, that would count as two. As soon as Howard gets past three such points for the postseason, he'd be suspended for a game.

One bad call
The block/charge is one of the toughest calls in basketball, they say. A couple of years ago I spoke about that call with Joe Borgia, the NBA's director of officiating programs and development. He was insistent that fans were wrong in worrying about things like whether or not the defenders' feet were set before the players collide. That's not the standard referees are instructed to follow. Instead, what you want to know is: Is the defensive player's torso set in position before the offensive player begins his upward motion? The defense can not slide into position after the offensive player has started to move upwards, which is before they even leave the ground. The standard is set at that point, says Borgia, "because we had to set it somewhere" and "the moment of alighting is too late." In years of watching film, however, Borgia has confidence they chose the correct moment.

Late in a one-point game, the Magic's J.J. Redick found himself guarded by Kevin Garnett at the 3-point line. The former Duke star beat the big man off the dribble, and if you stop the video with 2:22 left you'll see Redick beginning to jump, while the surprisingly nimble Davis is very much still hauling through the paint to meet him. At that point, Davis is literally on the run, and has yet to even clear the no-charge area under the hoop. By the time Davis has put his torso where it needs to go, Redick is far beyond the low point of the beginning of his jump. He's beyond "alighting." He's at the peak of his jump!

Refereeing is an impossible job to do perfectly, and it's not fair to pick out a play here or there as evidence of bad refereeing -- just as great shooters miss shots, so do great referees miss calls. But this was a miss.

Nine straight Magic calls in the fourth
Orlando fans are irate about that call, and some others. But before they get their victimhood too honed, here's something else to consider. The Magic were down eight at home, and staring doom in the face, when Mickael Pietrus was called for the first foul of the fourth quarter, just 12 seconds in. (They went down 11 on the next play, a Rasheed Wallace 3.)

The referees played no small part in what happened next, which is that Orlando fought back into the game.

After the Pietrus foul, the next time the referees whistled anything against the Magic was the Redick foul I just described, with a little more than two minutes left. For nine-and-a-half minutes of playoff, fourth quarter basketball, not one whistle went Boston's way. In that same stretch, Tony Allen, Wallace, Perkins (twice), Pierce (twice), Ray Allen, and Garnett were all assigned fouls, while Rajon Rondo was called for traveling.

And as I mentioned, by the time it was all done, it was a one-point game.

It can be a sign of a well-refereed game if fans of both teams are irate afterwards. But it can also be a sign of a poorly called game.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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