Joey Crawford Wants to Hop in an Octagon with Tim DuncanAfter Raja Bell clotheslined him in a playoff game last year, Kobe Bryant said, "If you want to train and hop in an octagon, we can train and hop in an octagon. That’s not basketball." Bryant and Bell seem to be on amicable terms now but a new NBA feud has emerged: official Joey Crawford versus the Spurs' Tim Duncan. The problem began when Crawford apparently became convinced that thousands of fans bought tickets and millions of viewers turned on their televisions not to watch Duncan play versus Dirk Nowitzki but rather to see Crawford prove how tough he is. First, Duncan was whistled for a very questionable offensive foul (this call was not made by Crawford). Duncan was taken out of the game and play continued. Crawford felt that Duncan was mocking him from the bench (Duncan later denied saying anything), so he hit Duncan with a technical foul. Then, about a minute later, the Spurs' Fabricio Oberto was called for a foul. Duncan was still on the bench and he started laughing and then he covered his face with a towel. Crawford pointed to Duncan and ejected him. Duncan first looked stunned. Then, when he realized that Crawford was serious, Duncan appeared to direct an epithet toward Crawford before leaving the court. The only player who I remember being ejected in a similar way is Rasheed Wallace, who was tossed by Ron Garretson several years ago for staring at him in a "funny" way--but at least Sheed was actually on the court at the time, though that one seemed a bit harsh as well, even if Sheed is a hothead.
Duncan's ejection for laughing was strange enough but that was just the start. After the game, Duncan said of Crawford, "He looked at me and said, 'Do you want to fight? Do you want to fight?' If he wants to fight, we can fight. I don't have any problem with him, but we can do it if he wants to. I have no reason why in the middle of a game he would yell at me, 'Do you want to fight?'" Duncan added, "He came into the game with a personal vendetta against me. It had to be because I didn't do anything the entire game. I said three words to him and the three words were, 'I got fouled' on a shot. ... That's all I said to him the entire game."
On the other hand, Crawford contended "he was complaining the whole game...And then he went over to the bench and he was over there doing the same stuff behind our back. I hit him with one (technical) and he kept going over there, and I look over there and he's still complaining. So I threw him out." Crawford added, "He called me a piece of (expletive). Is that nothing?" But Duncan appeared to say that after he was ejected, not before.
It will be very interesting to see how the NBA handles this. I was not there, so I don't know what was said back and forth throughout the game--but it certainly seemed that Crawford ejected one of the league's best players because he was laughing. How can Crawford know what Duncan was laughing about? Duncan was not even on the court. Maybe Gregg Popovich told a funny joke. Maybe somebody passed gas. How can an official eject someone for laughing?
The outcome of this game could have affected who gets the number two seed in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns had the inside track but had not clinched that spot until the Spurs went on to lose. San Antonio led 74-68 when Duncan was ejected and got outscored 23-12 the rest of the way. I don't believe in conspiracies but this is the kind of thing that fuels reckless talk. Then there is the matter of the above comments from Duncan and Crawford. The NBA cannot sweep this under the rug. Either Crawford abused his power, challenged a player to a fight and wrongly ejected him or Duncan is lying. If the first is true, then Duncan's technical fouls should be rescinded (at least the second one, for sure) and Crawford should be suspended. If the second is true, then one of the NBA's top players has slandered a veteran official by falsely accusing him of challenging him to a fight; that would seem to warrant a heavy fine, at least according to previous precedents. It will be very interesting to see how Commissioner David Stern deals with this volatile situation. Can the NBA afford to have Crawford officiate a Spurs playoff game?
It's a shame that this happened, because it takes the focus off of a very competitive game between the NBA's two best teams (San Antonio has the league's best record since the All-Star break and has been easily handling the Suns for years, so the Suns are not the second best team in my book). Dallas Coach Avery Johnson said before the game that he would not use any of his players for more than 26 minutes (the Mavericks have already clinched home court advantage, so this game was technically meaningless for them) but five Mavericks ended up playing longer than that--despite Duncan missing the entire fourth quarter. In other words, despite what anybody said, both teams looked at this game as a potential playoff preview and each wanted to get the upper hand against the other. The game was close throughout and very well played--but instead of seeing an exciting conclusion with both teams playing at full strength all we got was Crawford trying to prove that he's the boss. San Antonio made some key mistakes down the stretch and the Mavericks won, 91-86. Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris led Dallas with 21 points each, while Tony Parker had a game-high 23 points for the Spurs. Duncan finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.
If the NBA can verify that what Duncan said about Crawford is true let's hope that David Stern shows Crawford who is really the boss so that a fiasco like this does not happen during the playoffs.
There is a precedent for Stern taking strong action here. Jake O'Donnell was a well-respected official who, for unknown reasons, intensely disliked Clyde Drexler. O'Donnell ejected Drexler from a playoff game for no apparent reason and never worked another NBA game. The "official" story (no pun intended) is that O'Donnell retired--but who has ever heard of one of the top officials in a sport suddenly quitting early in the playoffs and then announcing his retirement several months later? O'Donnell's ejection of Drexler was so egregious--and it came after O'Donnell refused to shake Drexler's hand before the tip-off--that the NBA had no choice but to get rid of him. Obviously, this was hardly something that the league wanted to become a big story, so it is easy to understand why the NBA never admitted to firing O'Donnell. I wonder if, in this age of intense media coverage, the NBA will be able to find such an easy way out of this mess.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:36 PM