Thursday, May 29, 2014

Heat-Pacers Game Five--Rigged? You Bet

What in the hell is the NBA doing?

The league is constantly trying to skirt charges that games are rigged. But last night's game, which was a travesty of officiating, is just fodder for conspiracy theorists. The Pacers, at home, nipped the Heat, 93-90, to extend the Eastern Conference Finals to six games. Had the Heat, with a 3-1 lead, won last night, the series would have been over, robbing the NBA of revenue from a sixth or possibly seventh game. But the Pacers couldn't do it alone. Their offense is so pathetic it managed a mere 11 points in the second quarter. To win that game, they needed help from the officials. And, man, did they ever get it.

The recipe for beating the Heat is simple--just take Miami's superman LeBron James out of the game by putting him in foul trouble. With him playing limited minutes--and playing cautiously--the Heat is just an ordinary, very beatable team. In just over 24 foul-plagued minutes, James had only seven points. If he had his usual 25 points and was able to play his normal all-out, bruising defensive game, the Heat would have cruised to victory and the Pacers would be on vacation now instead of preparing for a sixth game in Miami.

The refs got rid of James early. He picked up his fourth foul a few seconds into the second half. With about eight minutes left in the third quarter he was awarded his fifth, diving for a loose ball. Right then, he was finished for the night, mostly riding the bench or operating tentatively, afraid to drive or play tough defense.What's worse, that fifth foul was flagrantly bogus.. Even the TV announcers questioned it. The NBA's unwritten rule is to make calls in favor of its biggest stars, to keep them from fouling out and to allow them to play with abandon. So it looks ridiculously fishy when the best basketball player on the planet, who is rarely in foul trouble in playoff games, is handcuffed by a series of rinky-dink fouls.

That wasn't all. In the fourth quarter, with the Heat still in contention, the refs did it again. The Heat's Shane Battier was mugged by some Pacers, yet, somehow, a foul was called on Battier. On another play, a replay clearly showed a Pacer last touched a ball that went out of bounds. Yet the refs, in keeping with their policy of Pacer-boosting, awarded the ball to the Pacers. Even with the refs' help and James severely limited, the Pacers, at home yet, barely won. That's how weak they are.

Some gamblers were laughing about the game, charging that the refs didn't do a very good job of camouflaging their intentions. Observed bookie Donnie F, who works out of New Jersey: "The NBA is saying they're always on the look out for gamblers trying to fix games and then the refs do what they did last night. It was lame. It was sloppy. It was obvious. Guys in my business can't believe it. If you're going to do it, do it right--not like that crap last night. Now everybody's talking about how the game was rigged. It gives rigging games a bad name."

Clearly the Pacers, with that cartoon offense, can't win the Miami series. But extending the Eastern Finals a game or two is good for the league. Let's face it, though--the last thing the NBA wants is for the Pacers to make the league championship Finals. Of the final four, Miami is the only big-time city left. Can you imagine what a TV ratings disaster the championship series would be with Indiana playing San Antonio or Oklahoma City?

Don't worry. Miami--and, of course, superstar attraction LeBron James--will be in the Finals. The refs will see to that.