CHICAGO – Danny Crawford, Michael Smith and Ken Mauer. Or if you prefer, Mauer, Smith and Crawford.
Here at the Hang Time hideout, we figure the names of referees who worked Game 1 of the Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls series at United Center are worth repeating once, twice or even thrice. They’ve got a few mentions coming because of how seldom their names came up during the game and broadcasts Sunday night.
Too often, hotly contested playoff games – especially at the level of conference championships and beyond – thrust the officials front and center in ways that the league and NBA fans generally abhor. But it happens, again and again, year after year:
Who’s working the game? Which team does he favor? How did three guys miss that call? Does he and that superstar have some sort of history? And on and on.
Considering the partisanship of most interested observers, the split-second decisions required several hundred times each game and the pseudo-celebrity status of NBA game officials thrust front-and-center into the spotlight right next to the players, the focus on refs – to the point of obsession – is understandable.
All we’re saying here, though, is it’s nice when that does not happen.
First off, Crawford, Smith and Mauer went to their whistles less often than a typical NBA playoff game requires. There were 28 fouls called in the game – 15 against Miami, 13 against Chicago – compared to a league average in 2010-11 of 41.43. Prior to Game 1, Chicago had averaged 20.2 fouls per game in the postseason, with Miami at 17.6. And they were on the low end – 13th and 16th, respectively – among the 16 playoffs teams (Oklahoma City, by comparison, is the hackingest this spring at 25.3 fpg).
No Bulls or Heat player got called for more than three fouls. There were no technicals (beyond a single defensive three-second call). Nobody got superstar treatment or shot more than six free throws. Afterward, both from the winners and losers, there was no discernible griping about how the game was called. Neither Heat coach Erik Spoelstra nor Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau tried to plant seeds in the media in hopes of swaying or softening whatever trio shows up for Game 2 Wednesday.
From the outside looking in, the toughest situations faced by Crawford, Smith and Mauer Sunday were the clear-path review when Miami’s James Jones fouled Ronnie Brewer after a Heat turnover in the fourth quarter, and a botched substitution when Joel Anthony tried to enter during live play.
Otherwise, it was clean and uneventful, with the refs essentially ignored the way they and the NBA would prefer (except for the sporting moment when Dwyane Wade boosted Smith back to his feet after player and ref got tangled up). It all made for a crisply played game – just 2 hours 22 minutes, brisk by postseason standards.
Crawford, Smith and Mauer. Here at HTB, we’re willing to showcase the officiating crew after every remaining playoff game if we can get sharp, unobtrusive work like that. It beats dwelling on them in game coverage or advances for less savory reasons.