Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Grousing

My least favorite part of playoff season is the inevitable attention paid to the referees. Yes, they are frequently that bad, but the playoffs often seems to exaggerate the feelings past the point of reasonableness. The classic statistic for assessing referee bias is used in this Bill Simmons tweet: “Total FT attempts today with all 4 teams playing equally hard: 71 (Miami/Chicago), 32 (Indy/Philly). That's embarrassing.”

I was not watching the Miami game as closely as the Chicago game, but it’s totally reasonable that the Bulls got many more free throw attempts: Rose was obsessive about driving to the rim, and the Pacers were so bereft of ideas about how to stop him that they preferred fouling. If the Pacers want to reduce the free throw disparity, they ought to consider playing better defense.

Of course free throws are not the only potential source of poor refereeing. The actual foul count matters greatly: both Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer missed time due to foul trouble. The latter might have been a boon for the Bulls, actually, but the former was surely a problem for the Bulls’ unfortunately lax defense and rebounding. So while the referee impact wasn’t equally distributed, there was a fair amount of collateral damage.

Ultimately I’m less interested in who the referees favor than the overall impact of the game: if referees aren’t policing the game like a Puritan, they’re letting everything short of homicide go. They rarely seem to get it just right, especially in the playoffs, which detracts from the entertainment and spectacle of it all. It’s surely something the NBA could get better at.

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