Like that comforting smell rising from the ground after a good rain, the waft of discontent against referee calls in a close game is consistent. It starts slow, a few tweets here, a comment in our chat there. But it seems to have reached a fever pitch recently,a salty monsoon of discontent - with fans of other teams crying...well, crying foul.
It seems to have ramped up right around the time Chris Paul got hurt — that’s when the Warriors went from “so good it wrecks the league” to “they are sooOoOoo lucky!!! Would’ve lost without the refs bailing them out.” As obviously ridiculous as that sounds, we’re not making this up.
So LeBron goes for 51-8-8 but loses Game 1 because...— Royce Young (@royceyoung) June 1, 2018
- An obscure rule allows a charge to be changed to a block
- An 80% free throw shooter hits 1 of 2
- A teammate doesn't know the score with a chance to win
Cool cool cool
Here at GSOM, we’ve generally stayed away from this as a subject matter. But there are so many flaws in this conspiratorial “logic” that we felt compelled to challenge it, especially after Apricot’s thread on Twitter. Since this seems to be reaching a fever pitch — and we’ve all encountered people in the real world who have confronted us with these thoughts — we just want to arm rational individuals of the world with the tools to challenge this nonsense when they’re confronted with it. So let’s go ahead and examine the merits of these specious claims.
Short conspiracy update.— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) June 2, 2018
NBA doesn’t suspend Thompson
NBA doesn’t suspend Love.
Refs give CLE the winning free throws.
(All moves I agree with btw.)
NBA is not very good at anti-CLE conspiracy. 1/x https://t.co/p5meYagTix
The NBA wants the Warriors to win
This is probably my personal favorite, because it would seem to imply that none of the other teams in the NBA are aware of this, or, if they are - then they are at least totally cool with being the whipping boy to the royalty that is the Warriors emergent dynasty.
Beyond that, no one has ever broken this story. You’d think that somewhere within the system, there’d be someone - a ref, a team executive, a player - who would have enough of a problem with this to become a whistle blower. And how would this look? One rogue ref? An entire crew?
... the “one rogue ref” theory doesn’t work In G1. Almost all the disputed calls were whole crew non-calls.— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) June 2, 2018
Ken Mauer called for review (CLE hates him). But he called a charge on the floor!
So next time someone yaks about conspiracy, I’m gonna just point to this thread. /end
But no. No one has ever stepped forward — spare a disgraced ex-referee who comes with the baggage of an FBI racketeering indictment and may have a bit of an axe to grind... just look at his Twitter feed, which vacillates between trashing the NBA and shilling for his gambling tips website. This is a guy who got charged with a federal crime for NBA game fixing — not for the NBA, but for his own personal financial gain. This seems like an ungainly, messy way to fix their games, if that was really the NBA’s intent.
The other classic argument is generally centered on how the NBA wants to extend the series to make more money. Which makes sense on the most specious of levels, but breaks down real quick when you try and unpack the way this would have to work.
How did the Warriors of all teams get chosen by the NBA? Is Joe Lacob really that rich? Or perhaps a member of the NBA Illuminati? Nothing is outside the real of possibility here, which is sorta the beauty of conspiracy theories: the burden of proof is non-existent, anything remotely plausible is up for consideration.
Aside from all that, what would the implications be if this story was true and actually broke? It would destroy the NBA. If the fix is truly in, fans would leave in droves - hardly a sustainable way for the league to make money. And this says nothing of other team owners - do you think Mark Cuban is cool with having another team get a preferential bias?
No, actually, it’s Vegas that wants the Warriors to win.
Since the NBA betting scandal, fans have been a bit more skeptical about point spreads. Indeed, in many of the organized gambling busts, it is the point spread that is influenced. But here’s the thing, that logic just doesn’t fit the model of what happened in Game one of the NBA Finals.
Let’s take this idea seriously for a sec. @ActionNetworkHQ said 58% bet CLE +13. Ofc the controversial calls were during a tight game, GSW was never going to cover. The 2H spread was around +9.— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) June 2, 2018
So that doesn’t explain anti-CLE conspiracy.
Can we talk about the lane violation for a moment?
The other thing that people seem to be attaching themselves to is the fact that the NBA’s officiating report for Game 1 shows that Draymond Green committed a lane violation on George Hill’s second free throw.
SHOCKING: NBA says Draymond should've been called for a lane violation, giving George Hill a third free throw attempt. AND: Draymond should've been called for a foul on LeBron before his pass to Hill, giving LeBron two free throws.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 2, 2018
I mean, are we serious right now? We’re talking about lane violations now? Are these the same people that call illegal screens and three seconds in the key during pickup games?
Ok, but seriously...
First, anyone who spends any amount of time watching NBA games knows that violations ranging from minor to severe happen all the time without anyone batting an eye — somewhat similar to travelling, it’s one of those things that happens and we all agree to excuse.
This rule has been largely ignored by the NBA, there is a lane violation on nearly every free throw all game long. Start calling the all now and we will have a four hour game. https://t.co/ZeTmuMd1nB— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) June 2, 2018
Second, to go back to something Apricot mentioned in his original tweet, the refs gave George Hill two free throws at the end of the game, which is why Green committed a violation to begin with -- yes, the refs may have missed a call (that is habit to overlook without any second thought), but they did so because they had just previously given the Cavs an opportunity to win the game. If you’re honestly going to put this on a reffing conspiracy, you have to have an explanation for why George Hill was on the free throw line with an opportunity to win the game to begin with.
An alternative theory: Fans need something to blame.
Back to that poorly thought out Deadspin article from earlier, take a look at the mental gymnastics required to get to a ref conspiracy from the events of game one:
It would be hard to overstate just how badly the Cavs were screwed by the universe at the end of Game 1 Thursday night.
There’s nothing that says that the Cavs would’ve won if the refs had gotten everything right, and ultimately it wasn’t a refereeing decision but ...But I am a hundred times more aware of the specific influence of the officials in that game than I am of any particular missed rotation or errant pass or bricked three-pointer, and that should just never be the case.
So just to reiterate their stance here: It’s not necessarily the refs, but I’m going to go ahead and assume that it is.
You want to blame the loss on something? Maybe it’s not that the refs are out to get you , maybe the Warriors are just better. During that historic meltdown, the Houston Rockets fans glommed on to the refs robbing them of the game - and they just comfortably hand wave away the ugly truth: During the 0-for-27 stretch, Harden missed 10 threes, Gordon missed seven, Ariza missed six, Tucker missed two and Johnson and Green each missed one.
But sure, it’s the refs fault.
The Cavaliers are now in the same boat that the Rockets paddled into the shore of the offseason. Cavs coach Tryonne Lue miraculously avoided a fine somehow, in spite of saying that “It ain’t right,” and saying Cleveland was robbed.
You know what else ain’t right, coach? This:
This photo. DAMN DAMN DAMN pic.twitter.com/ezzMpSK0ry— Cleveland Sports Talk (@CLEsportsTalk) June 1, 2018
The refs didn’t lose that game for you, Cleveland. Own it.
Ultimately, by my standards, 73% of the officials’ decisions on calls and non-calls were either ‘yes’ or ‘probably’ the right call, and only nine plays (8% of all calls) were either ‘dubious’ or ‘very dubious’.
...The total calls (and non-calls) were actually very even between the two teams, but the Lakers did benefit in my view in having an edge on the dubious calls of 7-2 in their favor. Five calls though across a full game does not immediately suggest any foul play at work.
In their Last Two Minute Report, the NBA even confirms that the blocking call on James was the correct call. But fans are quick to dismiss it. Not because the explanation isn’t plausible on it’s own, but rather it’s just so much more comforting to be able to lean on an external force, rather than internal failures when you are trying to explain a loss.
The speed at which NBA Twitter has flipped from “Warriors are too good, it’s not fair” to “we woulda beat the Warriors if not for the refs!” has been so sudden that it could give you whiplash. Maybe that’s more about what fans want to believe, than what’s really true.