A funny thing happened at an NBA Playoff game this weekend and it wasn't even noticed. No, it wasn't Oklahoma City's impressive sweep over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs handling of the formidable Utah Jazz in four straight games. It wasn't accounting firm Ernst & Young screwing up the ballot count for the NBA's Most Improved Player award nor the impressive play of David West for the Indiana Pacers. What happened this weekend went unreported, un-posted, un-blogged, un-tweeted. One of the greatest feats in NBA Playoff history and the story never even made the ESPN highlight reel.
So what the hell happened?
On Friday night at the TD Boston Garden in front of a sellout crowd of 18,624 which included a heavy dose of NBA brass, the officiating crew of #10 Ron Garretson, #13 Monty McCutchen and #33 Zach Zarba called a (near) perfect game.
Every referee worth his whistle swears the perfect game is an unattainable goal. At the highest level of basketball, an official doesn't stand a chance of getting them all right because the players are just too big, too quick and too strong. They are so talented and athletic, they're just too everything. They play so far above the rim and they can contort their bodies in midair to avoid contact or collision that the naked eyes can't compute the optical illusion occurring before them. The NBA game cannot be compared to hoops at any other level. It's even more impossible to compare officiating. To the novice fans, comparing NBA ball to college basketball or, even Euroleague Basketball, is worse than trying to compare apples and oranges or The Rolling Stones to The Who to The Beatles. It just can't be done.
As the red carpet was rolled out on Friday, plush with NBA Commissioner David Stern seated near his trusty deputy, Adam Silver, they both witnessed the feat alongside a bonafide CNN anchorman, John King, who could've broke into programming to report the news. However, not a single news bulletin, nor a word of congratulations was spoken to the men ultimately responsible for how their game is called. In the post-game press conferences, nobody brought up the subject of officiating. There were no kind words. No headlines written. World Series perfectionist Don Larson's name never came up when the Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 90-84, in overtime, and the NBA registered the best officiated game of the year. It might've been the best officiated game of the the century.
An unofficial review of the game brought about four or five "possible" missed calls or miscues, none of them even close to being significant. The only blip on the screen was a moment when Boston Coach Doc Rivers sauntered way out onto the court but he wasn't arguing a call and the referring crew let it go, as they should. Rivers was trying to get the attention of his point guard Rajon Rondo who was not on the same page as his coach's playbook required when he returned to play in Game 3 after being suspended for a single playoff date for bumping NBA ref Marc Davis in Game 1 of the series. After that contest, there was quite a bit of focus on the officiating and, after the game, there was a constant banter on the steps the NBA would take to discipline Rondo for his obvious disregard of the sacred personal space around an official.
Rightfully so, the NBA suspended Rondo a single game for his indiscretion but Avery Bradley, Sasha Pavlovic, Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels all stepped up quite nicely for the Celtics as they tied the series 1-1 with an 87-80 win over the Hawks at Atlanta. The Celtics' win brought the series to Boston for the "so-called" pivotal Game 3 where the stakes were raised so high, the people of Kentucky would start singing "My Old Kentucky Home." The game was important and the players delivered a hard-fought, entertaining, defensive chess match that saw Boston hold Atlanta to 38 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from three-point land. Much of that defensive intensity is credited to the amazing play of Kevin Garnett who has played with the youthful exuberance of the high school senior who entered the league in 1995. While Garnett, switched to center after teammate Jermaine O'Neal went down to injury and had season-ending surgery on his left wrist in March.
Out on the perimeter where real defense happens in game of basketball, Bradley has become the stopper. Complemented by the speedy Rondo, the consistent Paul Pierce, the hard-working and the deep bench of Daniels, Dooling, Mickael Pietrus and important minutes being played by Ray Allen, now as a reserve the past two games, Bradley has become the difference maker for the Boston Celtics as they plot their way through the 2012 NBA Playoffs with the window of opportunity showing a shade pulled three-quarters of the way down. This might be it for this era of Celtics basketball and the NBA's cut-down season provides an opportunity to hang banner No. 18 in the rafters of TD Boston Garden.
In this year when NCAA officiating was a downright disgrace to the game and when NBA bad boy Metta World Peace earned a seven-game suspension for nearly decapitating Oklahoma's James Harden, the whistle blowers are always the visiting team. It was once said that officiating is the only profession in the world where the ultimate compliment is silence. That is certainly true. No news is good news when the refs are escorted off the court by a security detail that rivals the U..S Secret Service presence in a Colombian strip joint. The attention brought upon NBA referees in the past five or six years largely revolved around the criminal activities of one Tim Donoghy and the sniping by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his "couldn't run a Dairy Queen" condescending and ill-informed viewpoint of the dedicated group of professional refs who call the game at the very highest level. They run, they pivot, they get screened by giants on the court, they peek around bodies, scramble for better position, work their rotations all in an attempt to "just get it right." Then, they have their judgements reviewed by partisan television commentators who make their references from observing 12 high-definition television cameras situated so far away from the court, they create bad angles and optical illusions which often prompt erroneous reporting or legions of fans scowling when the replays are shown on jumbo in-arena screens.
On Friday night, the crew of Garretson, McCutcheon and Zarba, a young rising superstar official, got it right. No one noticed, but that's alright. They reviewed the game themselves and probably second-guessed a judgement call or two. They showered, dressed, then left the building without so much as a pat on the back or a single cheer from the fans.
Only the funeral directors, morticians and undertakers could relate.