The Calm Before Game 3

1212679756The NBA posted its referee assignments for tonight’s game, and there’s about a 75 percent chance that this one is going to be a train wreck. Your striped shirts are: Mark Wunderlich, Joey Crawford, and (drum roll, please) Bennett Salvatore. Man, didn’t see that last one coming.

The NBA is in a very bad spot with their officials right now. They have tried to sweep the Tim Donaghy game-fixing fiasco under the rug since last summer, despite some saber-rattling from his attorney.

The league also suffered from a well-publicized missed call at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference between the Lakers and the Spurs. The NBA later owned up to blowing it, a call that would have sent the Spurs to the line with a chance to tie the game at the buzzer. Instead, the Lakers went on to the win the game, and the series in five. The officials from that game? Joe Forte, Wunderlich, and Crawford. (Funny, the Lakers didn’t cry about the officiating after that one.)

The spotlight tonight won’t be on Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce, it will be on the refs. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the three officials.

Mark Wunderlich: The Celtics are 1-2 in games that he has worked during the playoffs. They lost Game 6 in Atlanta, a game also worked by Crawford, and Game 4 in the Cleveland series. It should be noted that there was nothing that seemed untoward about those games. Wunderlich also worked Game 1 of the Detroit series, again with Crawford, which the Celtics won.

Joey Crawford: In the old days, the refs were as much household names as some of the players and Crawford, with his bald head and quick-trigger, is one of the most recognizable officials in the business. Lately Crawford has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. His beef with Tim Duncan last year led to a suspension. He was also the guy who didn’t call the aforementioned foul at the end of the Spurs-Lakers game. (Side note on Joey: He once almost whistled me for a technical foul during a media 3-on-3 tournament back when I was covering the Sixers. He gave me the patented death stare when I argued a block/charge call, and I was only saved when I reminded him that I had once written about his daughter, a terrific Division III basketball player).

Bennett Salvatore: Where to begin? It was Salvatore who called the infamous offensive foul on Paul Pierce in Game 6 in Detroit when Pierce was raked by Rip Hamilton. Salvatore has been involved in several controversial plays over the years and was the subject of an enlightening piece by True Hoop maestro Henry Abbott. But it’s also worth noting that Salvatore has worked each series-deciding game that the Celtics have played during the playoffs and the C’s, obviously, have won them all.

The NBA would certainly prefer it if the officials weren’t scrutinized so much. But that’s what happens when you assign two of the most controversial, closely-watched refs to a game like this. Or, maybe they actually like conspiracy theories?