Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Complete Analysis of Game 6 2002 LA/Sac: The Donaghy Rigged Game

Roland Beech of has spent serious time detailing every single call of the notorious Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

That's the game convicted former referee Tim Donaghy has said was essentially rigged, by the NBA, to be a Laker victory.

Beech found all kinds of stuff.

He found that the questionable, or to his eyes, flat out incorrect, calls favored the Lakers not in huge numbers (nine total calls), but a very lopsided (7-2) rate.

Beech did some very intelligent guesswork as to how many points the referees' dubious calls may have unfairly cost the Kings six points.

The Lakers won by four.

So, Sacramento, permission granted to freak out.

But ...

Beech also looked for any and all evidence to support Donaghy's claim that two of the referees were "company men" who did the NBA's bidding. It was hard to see that in how each referees calls broke down. Referee Bob Delaney, Beech found, called the game quite evenly. Ted Bernhardt's calls slightly favored the Lakers, and Dick Bavetta's calls, especially late in the game, were more in favor of the Lakers than anyone.

Through it all, however, Beech finds it very tough to support the notion that the game was rigged. He just does not see it. I recommend you read his entire, very sober explanation. (And remember, Beech is no company man. He created what is, to me, one of the most damning referee critiques on record, which prompted lots of follow-up.)

Here is just some of Beech's rationale for concluding that the game was not likely rigged.

Yes, at a glance you can see the Lakers got some advantage from the calls down the stretch, but if Bavetta was really trying to rig the game, would he have called a tie up jump ball at the 3:26 mark (and subsequently had a bad toss that gave the ball to the Kings) with the Kings ahead by two when he could have called a foul on Divac? Would he have called the foul on Fisher at 1:27 that helped bring the Kings back within a point with plenty of time left? Would he have called the blocking foul on Fox with 0:20 when an offensive foul would have basically sealed the game? Doubtful.

Bernhardt made no foul call on Christie's block of Kobe with the game tied at 3:56, gave Bibby a bailout call with the shot clock winding down at 2:34 with the game tied, and didn't call Webber for a foul on Shaq's basket at 0:52 which could have fouled out C-Webb and given the Lakers a look at a four point lead.

Delaney wasn't very active in the waning minutes, with one no call where Bibby looked for a foul at the 0:43 mark. The other notable non-call which I rated an "all refs" situation was on the inbounds at 0:12 where Kobe knocked Bibby to the floor with an elbow to the face, but Bibby was also grabbing Kobe at the time it happened so both were really guilty of infractions to some extent. Still an offensive foul on Kobe there could have changed the outcome!

As a whole, these plays suggest to me the refs were calling the game honestly, if perhaps not well.

Now Bernhardt did have the arguable turning point call of the game as it turns out at the 3:06 mark when Webber moved into the paint and made a basket only to have the shot wiped out with an offensive foul call. At first I was in agreement with Bill Walton that this was a "terrible call" but having watched the play over ten times in slow motion I changed it from 'dubious' to 'maybe' in my grading since it's one of those plays where I believe a case could be made for a defensive foul, an offensive foul, or even a dual fault let them play no call. If pressed I'd still rate it a Horry foul which would have given a basket and the and one shot to Webber and the Kings a possible four or five point lead. Yet there is a fair amount of left arm push off from Webber and Bernhardt was right on top of the play with a good angle.

This gets to the heart of the matter to me: despite the NBA's official claim that 95% of calls are correct over a season, there are just too many plays that are far from being clear cut wrong/right and many that fall into a gray area where even watching a play many times in slow motion you can make a case for different verdicts. The block/charge/no call situation is also about the worst of these in that it's such a snap judgement with significant effect.

Before you decide what you think about Beech's critique, please do read the whole thing. He has not only logged every single call, and anticipated just about every objection you might have, and has addressed them. You might as well get his take before weighing in on the quality of his work.

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