After seeing 134 free throws through the first two games, after seeing the officiating and fouls called play a key role in both games, the announcement of the referees for Game 3 has led basketball fans everywhere to say, “Are you kidding me?” In Boston and Los Angeles, you can insert a few expletives into that sentence.
Your officials for Game 3: Bill Kennedy, Bennett Savatore and Danny Crawford.
Celtics fans are convinced Bill Kennedy has it in for them. The most public and recent incident is when Kennedy tossed Rasheed Wallace from a game against the Sixers in December (a game the Celtics lost). Last year he tossed Doc Rivers from a game then got in a staring match with him.
Bennett Salvatore? Phil Jackson got fined back in April when after a game he said you never know what you are going to get with Salvatore. Lakers fans are convinced that Salvatore has it in for their team — but that is a huge bandwagon. Everybody thinks Salvatore has it in for their team. Boston fans included.
So after two games of calling the game tight and not letting it look like an NBA finals, the NBA is sending out two of the most controversial referees in the league? Things will get interesting.
This is all a bit like the Tim Donaghy situation. Actually look at the data and it’s clear Donaghy is full of crap. He doesn’t stand up to any test. But it’s about perception. People have long been suspect of NBA referees, and now a former NBA referee is saying they were right so they believe him. It’s that simple.
When you break down the numbers, Kennedy doesn’t call any more technicals against the Celtics than other officials do. But that doesn’t matter, it’s about perception. Celtics fans are convinced he does and will react that way.
After two tightly called games, two controversial officials are going to be watched like hawks and blamed for things beyond their control. But they also could well influence the game, as their peers did in the first two games. The good news, Crawford is one of the best out there. So it will not be three blind mice tonight
Report: Trevor Ariza ‘checked out mentally’ with Suns
Why did Trevor Ariza leave the Rockets, who came as close as anyone to beating the Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors in the playoffs, for the lowly Suns?
Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix last summer. That salary likely far surpasses what Ariza could have gotten elsewhere – especially Houston, where the Rockets are wary of the luxury tax.
Predictably, a veteran signing with bad team for a quick paycheck turned out poorly. The Suns traded Ariza to the Wizards essentially as soon as he became eligible to be dealt.
However, it’s unclear whether Ariza will actually be rejuvenated by the Wizards, who’ve been stuck in their own turmoil. There’s also risk Ariza, 33, has declined due to age in ways that won’t simply reverse in a better environment.
At least he ends his depressing Phoenix chapter. This will be the lasting scene of his time there. Gina Mizell of The Athletic:
“I’m not one to get somewhere and then just duck out,” Trevor Ariza told me this morning when I asked if he wanted to stay in Phoenix or be traded to a contender/bought out. But he was leaving the arena before most #Suns were off the shootaround floor… https://t.co/dfI2480hcd
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Rockets beat Jazz behind James Harden’s 47, is Houston turning it around? It was a “battle” of the two most disappointing teams in the Western Conference — just about every pundit (myself included) projected the Rockets and Jazz to finish second and third in the West in some order. They came into the night 10th and 13th in the West — both out of the playoffs if they started today.
And both needed a win — in the tight Western Conference any game between playoff contenders counts double (and there seems to be a game or three like this every night now).
Houston got the win, 102-97, because MVP James Harden showed up and took over: 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
That’s the second time in four days Harden has been in vintage form, he dropped 50 on the Lakers and frustrated them just days before. Harden is the master and showing the ball and drawing fouls, and he has the best step-back in the game — although this one was more than a gather and step. Harden got away with one.
The Rockets have now won four in a row, are over .500 at 15-14 for the first time since Nov. 23rd. They are just half a game back of the final playoff slot in the West.
Have the Rockets turned it around?
Depends on how you define “turned it around.”
The Rockets offense has been elite and their defense average — which is a big step up, they are still fifth worst in the league on the season — in these four games. Harden has taken over two of them. That recipe, if it continues, should get Houston into the playoffs in the West. In that sense, they have turned it around, they are performing at the level of a playoff team, which is a step up.
But just making the playoffs was never the goal in Houston — this was a team that was ahead of Golden State at halftime of games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season and within a step of reaching the Finals (and winning a ring). This season they wanted to take that next step.
The Rockets aren’t at that level yet, and this roster — as currently constructed — cannot get there. Houston was a top-10 defense last season and this roster has not shown it can get near, let alone sustain, that level. Houston’s defensive switching isn’t as smooth as a season ago, and teams are attacking it differently (not just trying to post up Harden or Chris Paul). Houston doesn’t have the personnel on this roster to adapt and thrive against the way the NBA is adjusting, they are thin at the wings, and come the playoffs they are farther away from Golden State, not closer.
Which is why everyone expected them to go harder for a Trevor Ariza trade, not only do they miss him the Rockets need wing help and he’s the best one available. They didn’t. And here we are:
Houston is playing a lot better, but not at the level they had hoped. If you want to call that turning it around, go ahead.
2) Milestones night in Bay Area: Stephen Curry reaches 15,000 points, Kevin Durant passes Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list. For Stephen Curry, it appropriately happened on a deep pull-up three — he passed the 15,000 point mark in his career.
Curry is the fifth Warrior to score 15K all in a Warriors’ uniform, and the other names are all legends and Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin. Chamberlain scored the most as a Warrior at 17,783, a number Curry likely passes next season.
With all the attention paid to Curry — still the golden child for Bay Area fans — nobody seemed to notice Kevin Durant passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for 33rd on the all-time scoring list during the same game. (Durant is 38th if you count ABA scoring in the mix, just for the record.) KD is going to finish way up that list by the time his career ends.
By the way, the Warriors cruised past the Grizzlies 110-93 in the kind of easy win Golden State hasn’t seen enough of this season.
3) Taj Gibson doesn’t need two shoes to play good defense. Credit Tom Thibodeau for coming up with a new way to play defense.
Taj Gibson had the ball in his hands and had gone at the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica in the post, eventually scoring but losing his shoe. Gibson picked up his shoe and ran back down the court with it in his hands, but Sacramento pushed the ball back up the floor and decided to have Bjelica attack the one shoe/one sock Gibson.