Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tim Donaghy rigged the Suns vs. Spurs game!

great article from Fox Sports!

"There aren't many dark days in the Valley of the Sun in mid-summer, but Friday must have been pretty gloomy.

Just when Phoenix Suns fans were moving through the acceptance phase of their grief over last year's unjust playoff exit comes another knee to the groin.

As if the playoff suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw (in exchange for instigator Robery Horry) hadn't been a big enough miscarriage of justice, now comes news that NBA referee Tim Donaghy is under FBI investigation for betting on basketball. There are even allegations of mob ties.

While those charges have yet to be proven, there is very little debate among the basketball cognoscenti as to what was the most dubiously officiated game in this spring's playoffs. It was Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs Western Conference semifinals on May 12.

It was a bewildering carnival of bad calls, bad non-calls and egregiously late calls.

Who did that game? Eddie F. Rush, Greg Willard and Tim Donaghy.

The Suns' gut-wrenching six-game loss to the Spurs had already plunged their fans into the grief cycle, only then it was due largely to David Stern's failure to insert a measure of mitigating sanity to his zero-tolerance bench-leaving policy.

The pain played out like this:

Did Tim Duncan and the Spurs benefit from Tim Donaghy's questionable calls? (D. Clarke Evans / Getty Images)

# Denial — This can't be happening. Robert Horry didn't just hip-check Steve Nash into the scorer's table with the result being the suspensions of our only low-post scorer and best low-post passer. This cannot be happening.

# Anger — We hate you, David Stern! We'd like to see Charles Barkley throw you through a plate glass window at Dan Majerle's bar!

# Bargaining — Please, please, let us squeak out Game 5. Let the series go seven games. We'll forget all about the unjust suspensions.

# Depression — We lost. We're doomed. It's over. Our window of opportunity is closing. Nash is 33. That was our shot.

# Acceptance — We're down, but not out. We just signed Grant Hill. Stoudemire will be another year away from microfracture surgery. Leandro Barbosa is getting better by the minute.

And then whammo! It looks like the NBA has a dirty ref and he called a pivotal playoff game that the Suns lost. So, for beleaguered Suns fans, the stages of grieving begin anew.

# Denial — There is simply no way an official in a major American sport would do this. This isn't Italian soccer, dammit.

The Tim Donaghy scandal

# Kriegel: Stern's opening argument
# Rosen: NBA can survive scandal
# Kriegel: NBA reputation doomed?
# Hench: Were the playoffs rigged?

# Stern: 'This is an isolated case'

# Report: Ref got threatening calls

# NBA officials deal with credibility gap

# Report: Fed hope Donaghy will help

# Vegas mayor: Scandal won't hurt

# FBI probing referee for game-fixing

# Ref stats: What the numbers say

# Anger — Was Game 3 the game when Bruce Bowen essentially assaulted Nash from start to finish? Was Bowen really whistled for only two fouls? Did Nash really shoot only three free throws? Was that the game where the Suns were in the midst of a run-out when they were interrupted by a foul call so late it just had to be an inadvertent whistle?

# Bargaining — Okay. Please, Federal Bureau of Investigation, just tell us Donaghy hadn't bet on that game. Please just tell us that a pile of mob money didn't come down on the Spurs in Game 3.

# Depression — Ah, what's the difference? It's not like Stern is going to give us a do-over.

# Acceptance — Probably never.

First, Game 3 will have to be put under a microscope. Hard to believe it will look any better under a jeweler's loupe than it did on TV.

Off the top of my head, the worst non-call — after Bowen forced a turnover by chopping down on Nash's off hand as the point guard was crossing over — came right in front of Rush, not Donaghy.

One other critical officiating error was a whistle on a clean block by Stoudemire, who played only 21 minutes due to foul trouble.

And then there was the whistle delivered from Shangri-La. The Suns had forced a miss, secured the ball and were pushing it up court when a foul was called, retroactive to the shot attempt. If it turns out that Donaghy made this particular call — after having a couple of seconds to think about it — it will look very bad.

The Spurs were favored by four in Game 3 and won by seven, 108-101. They shot nine more free throws than the Suns, a perfectly reasonable gap between an interior-scoring team and a jump-shooting team. While the risk of fixing a playoff game is increased by the closer scrutiny of the game, it is easier to place large bets without setting off red flags because there's much more money being wagered on a playoff game than a regular season game.

If Donaghy is convicted of fixing any games over the last two seasons — during which the FBI was monitoring his games — how will Stern, who must have precious little credibility in Phoenix, ever convince Suns fans that they weren't the victims of a fix? I mean, besides the one he himself sanctioned after Game 4. (And if it turns out Donaghy did conspire to fix Game 3, how happy will Suns fans be with the FBI for allowing their team to be an unwitting victim in a two-year-old sting operation?)

For years Stern has been dismissing the cries of conspiracy theorists and fining anyone who dared open his mouth about the officiating. He even went so far as to threaten to throw Jeff Van Gundy out of the league.


If during a criminal court proceeding it comes to light that Donaghy was influencing the outcome of games, is Stern prepared to return any fine money levied against a player, coach or owner who criticized what turned out to be crooked officiating?

Former Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill was fined $25,000 after complaining bitterly about the officiating in a game Donaghy did on March 6, 2006.

Stern could conceivably return that fine money if it turns out Donaghy was in the bag. But what if evidence emerges that Donaghy had money on the Spurs in Game 3?

If that's the case, Stern's refusal to adjudicate the Horry-Stoudemire-Diaw non-fight fairly will have compounded a criminal act. How could he ever make things right in Phoenix?

He might start by awarding Phoenix, one of the finalists, the 2009 All-Star Game. But would he dare show up?

Suns fans may still be grieving."

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