Cavs + Refs beat Celts / Obvious bias ruins game / Green Trends

Scott Foster has been an NBA ref a long time. He knows how to control a game when he wants to — or at least he thinks he does. The problem nowadays for Foster and for all occasionally-dishonest refs comes down to one acronym: DVR. We, the people, have em. We can see every tiny thing the referees do on the court, in slow motion, frame-by-frame, backwards and forwards, however many times we want. How they think they can get away with cheating these days is beyond my understanding.

It doesn't happen as often as some fans believe — less than 10% of games are manipulated, by my count. (And it certainly does NOT just happen to the Celtics.) But since it obviously does still happen, we can only conclude that refs who do cheat just DON'T CARE if we see their mendacity. Their contract with the NBA is apparently strong enough, and the consequences for cheating inconsequential enough, that they don't have to care.

But let's be clear about this Cleveland game: It's far from certain that the Celtics would have won in a fair contest. The Cs lost their 18-point 1st-quarter lead in the 2nd quarter (mostly because the bench — usually uber-reliable — failed them this time), BEFORE the refs started their manipulations. They lost it with careless turnovers, missed free throws, and sometimes-lax defense. We cannot know who would have won a fairly-officiated contest — and that makes this game irrelevant. It was a meaningless experience, apart from the obvious misconduct of the officials (which will probably result in nothing, because... it's the NBA).

You can see the individual bad calls in the Referees section below.

Note that the refs stopped most (though not all) of their shenanigans in the 4th quarter — presumably because CLE had a big enough lead then. But as the great Tommy Heinsohn said after the game: When the officials clearly join the other side and your team suffers one bad call after another, "It drains you.... It destroys your spirit." Tommy knows what he's talking about.

And in this case, the Cs faced not only 8 vs. 5 but also one of the best teams in the NBA — a team that's hard to beat in the best of circumstances. It's easy to understand how the Green's "We-Never-Quit" fighting spirit might have taken a hit in that miserable 3rd quarter.

After the game, Brad Stevens said that the team had lacked "poise" in this one. Coaches can't say a word about the refs without getting fined, so this was Stevens' way of saying: "We saw what the refs were doing, and we reacted the wrong way." Players can't be yapping at the refs, no matter what. (Smart and Sully both got techs for it.) It's the coach's job to do what he can about the officiating — never the players'. Live and learn.

Still — it's hard to blame our guys for objecting to blatant, obvious injustice. Brad has to say what he has to say to the media, but the problem wasn't that the players lacked 'poise' in this game. It was that the referees lacked integrity.

In the end, the Celts lost this game for two main reasons:
  • Extremely bad officiating.
  • Turnovers, mostly careless/unforced and live-ball.
Poor free throwing didn't help either. Note that defense is not listed, even though the Cs' Defensive Rating in this game was abysmal (see below). Reason: the Celtics' ability to implement an effective defense was demolished by the referees — and that's already on the list.

Here are details on the game, and where the club stands now...


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Cleveland Cavs – Mar 5 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 108.9 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #6 offense in the NBA this season.
  • The 1st quarter was an offensive gem for the Cs, with Off. Rtg. = 145.4 (!) — equivalent to #1 in the league by a mile.
  • The 2nd quarter was the polar opposite of the 1st, with the Cs' Off.Rtg. dropping all the way to 78.1 — equivalent to worst in the league by a mile.
  • The 3rd quarter was a referee nightmare, and by the 4th quarter the dye was cast.
  • Prior to this game, CLE's defense was rated #8 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.3) — very good.
  • Versus the Cs in this complete game, CLE's D performed like the #27 defense in the league (Def.Rtg. = 108.9) — much worse than CLE's season average.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 126.9 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season, by far.
  • The 1st quarter was a defensive gem for the Cs, with Def. Rtg. = 91.4 — equivalent to #1 in the league.
  • The 2nd quarter was the polar opposite of the 1st, with the Cs' Def.Rtg. worsening all the way to 135.6 — equivalent to worst in the league by a mile.
  • Coming into this game, the Cavs' offense was rated #5 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 109.7) — excellent.
  • For this complete game, the Cs' D allowed CLE's O to score at a level equivalent to the NBA's #1 offense (Off.Rtg. = 126.9).
Pace: Each team had 95 possessions – slower than the Cs' season average (98.7 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.7/game.

Referees: Grade: F. Observations: The crew of Scott Foster (#48), Steve Anderson (#35) and Eric Dalen (#37) called a relatively decent game in three quarters, and outright cheated in Q3. The bias was obvious, extreme and relentless in that quarta horribilis — more than enough to give the Cavs a major advantage.
  • At ~8:23 of the 2nd quarter, Iman Shumpert was called for fouling Jerebko while setting a pick for Kevin Love. Replay showed no discernible foul, just a good pick. (This was the one and only noted bad call that went against CLE in this game.) Here's the video clip.
  • The 3rd quarter — a period which will live in infamy — began normally enough. Then, at ~9:14, came the first hammer blow: a ridiculous flagrant-1 foul called by Scott Foster on Amir Johnson. Here's the video clip supplied by the NBA.

    Flagrant foul rules are clearly spelled out by the NBA. The contact must be "unnecessary." Amir was warding off Mozgov with a stiff arm, a perfectly normal action used by every player in the NBA. It so happened that Mozgov moved as Amir moved and Amir's arm inadvertently made contact with Mozgov's neck. Most important was that Amir's movements were all part of a normal, legal NBA act — dribbling forward while closely guarded. The NBA's other criteria are: (a) severity of contact: in this case, the contact was not severe at all. Amir didn't swing his arm. He was just moving forward normally and was unlucky enough to make contact with Mozgov's neck. (b) The presence of a windup: there was none. (c) The severity of injury caused: Mozgov rolled around for a while, but was fine as soon as the flagrant review was announced. (d) Any altercation: there as none.

    This extremely bad call marked the beginning of the referees going nuts on the Celtics. From this point till the end of the 3rd quarter, the Cs suffered a tsunami of bad calls, all of which helped the Cavs/hurt the Celts.
  • At ~8:02 of Q3, Avery Bradley was called for an offensive foul by ref Eric Dalen when AB drove to the rim and Kevin Love stepped in front of him. Love's heel was on the restricted area line when he got to his final position, but then he lifted his heels so that only the front of his foot (which was not on the line) made contact with the ground. Replay showed that Love lifted his heels only after Bradley took his final step and went into his layup jump. Therefore, this was actually a blocking foul that was miscalled. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~5:52 of Q3, Kyrie Irving charged into a stationary Jae Crowder standing well outside the restricted area. It was laughably called a blocking foul, by referee Steve Anderson. This one was so clear and obvious, it made the 8 vs. 5 situation ominously clear. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~5:34 of Q3, Kevin Love obviously, blatantly fouled Jared Sullinger on a scoring attempt deep in the paint. Even the Cavs announcers, on hearing the whistle, were sure it was a foul. Nope: no foul call. The refs' malfeasance was now open for all to see. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~5:13 of Q3, Kevin Love hit Marcus Smart in the jaw with his elbow as he (Love) swung his arms around the get free. Here's the video clip. This was very similar to the action that got Amir a flagrant-1 earlier in the quarter (~9:14). But this time, Scott Foster — the very same official who called the flagrant-1 on Amir — charged Marcus Smart with a blocking foul. Smart's jaw got in Kevin Love's elbow's way, I guess. Gotta watch that dangerous jaw of yours, Marcus. Completely ridiculous officiating. Blatant as blatant can be.
  • At ~4:07 of Q3, Marcus Smart went up for a layup and was clearly and obviously fouled on the play by Kyrie Irving (and Kevin Love too). No call. When Smart said something to Scott Foster about the no-call, he got hit with a technical foul. Here's the video clip supplied by the NBA (which does not include the slow-motion replay that aired on the Boston broadcast shortly after the play and clearly showed the foul). Scott Foster at this point was deep into his mendacity. Now compare this play to the next one below....
  • 20 seconds later, at ~3:47 of Q3, Lebron James drove to the rim and got a foul call — for approximately nothing. The slow-motion replay aired in the Boston broadcast showed that at most, James' body was lightly grazed as he drove by. Nevertheless he got the whistle — while on the other end, obvious hard fouls were going uncalled. Who made this phantom call? Why, Scott Foster, of course. The master thief. And who was charged with the foul? Marcus Smart, the guy whom Foster had just T'd up. (Was this Foster being churlish and childish? You decide.) Here's the NBA's video clip (which does not include the high-quality slow-motion replay aired in the Boston feed).
  • At ~1:40 of Q3, Marcus Smart was charged with a blocking foul when Kevin Love took a 3-point shot from the right corner. Rather than jumping straight up, Love jumped SIDEWAYS to make sure he hit Smart's body. It was very badly done and laughably obvious. (Note that Smart was standing about 1.5 feet from Love when this happened. The best call would have been a no-call. 2nd-best: an offensive foul on Love.) And who do you think made this ridiculous call? Master larcenist Scott Foster, once again. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~6:11 of the 4th quarter, as Tyler Zeller jumped to get an offensive rebound Lebron James literally pulled him down by the shoulder right in front of the line ref. No call. Unbelievable. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~2:58 of Q4, referee Steven Anderson called a phantom foul on Jared Sullinger guarding Lebron James on a drive. There was no significant contact at all. Here's the video clip.
Note: The video clips linked to here are provided by the NBA. They are not always optimal. You may need to see the original broadcast — usually Boston's is best — to get the best views.
Tech Note: NBA clips are finicky and don't work in all browsers. Chrome should work okay. Javascript must be enabled, ad blockers turned off, etc.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


Season-to-date, after the Cavs game...
  • Offensive Rating = 107.1 — # 9 in NBA. (Range: #8–#10 in a tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 103.0 — # 4 in NBA. (Range: #3–#5 in a tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.1 — # 7 in NBA.
Note: Ranges are given when the rankings of teams are so close, exact placement is effectively a tossup that can change with every game played.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • If you're going to be an NBA fan, you have to accept that there will be games like this from time to time. Maybe GSW and CLE don't experience this kind of crap (I don't know). But the Celtics get their share, like most other teams.
  • Since the advent of multiple-angle instant replay, and the DVR, has obviously not made the difference it should have, the only way to stop the refs from ruining games is to change the environment in which they work. There needs to be strict accountability and severe punishment for misbehavior by officials — none of which exists now.
  • But the Celtics might well have lost this game even with fair officiating. We just can't know. The refs brought their hammer down at the exact time when the Cs have lately been taking control of games: the 3rd quarter/2nd half.
  • Note that even outside that horrible Q3, these refs, like all refs, gifted Lebron James several fouls he didn't deserve. James is the universally acknowledged poster child for "superstar treatment" in this league. If anyone is near him on any drive, a whistle is usually blown, contact or no contact. It's ridiculous — and separate from the travesties in the 3rd quarter of this game.
  • Way it goes. These are the losses built into the schedule that can't be avoided. Some manipulation and dishonesty is still part of life in the NBA, apparently. The boys will be alright; they know the way it is.
    • On to the next one.
    • Cs have 3 full days off now, then it's Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday in the Garden. (MEM's season record is now ~perfectly average: #14 on O, #15 on D.) Cya.

    Green Trends is where we analyze the Celtics & identify emerging new trends — before they become obvious. Posts generally run within ~1-20 hours after Cs games.
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