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NBA Refs Cry Foul, Outcry Ensues

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"He's [Steph Curry] the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him. Three of them were absolutely ridiculous. He steals the ball from Kyrie [Irving] clean at one point, LeBron flops on the last one--Jason Phillips falls for that for a flop. This is the MVP of the league we're talking about these touch fouls in the NBA Finals."- Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr after the Warriors game six loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Criticizing officiating is nothing new. Errors by referees, especially when world championships are on the line, are scrutinized by not only coaches and players, but by fans of both teams. When all else fails, when your team is just not getting it done, it is easier to place blame on bad calls rather than emphasize the importance of how well the other team played. 

This is exactly what happened in game six of the  2016 NBA Finals on Thursday night, a victory by the Cavs that ended with Curry fouling out and, in a rare moment of loss control by Curry, flinging his mouth guard into the stands.

The refs have done it again.

To be fair, Coach Kerr emphasized that the officiating did not cost the Warriors this game. Instead, he chose to insinuate that MVP's should never foul out. It is up to the refs to protect their star player, to give preferential treatment in games to these players, specifically in this case to his superstar Curry. It's been like that for ages. Coddling superstars because that's what people pay for. The league mandates it, right?

Ah, yes, the league. The very same league that Curry's wife, Ayesha Curry, angrily tweeted about--and later deleted--after the game. A tweet in which she basically accused the league of instructing the refs to call the game favorably for the Cavs, helping to ensure a Cleveland win that forced a Game 7. Thus, bringing the NBA more money.

Adam Silver's pile of cash after Game 6
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Conspiracy theories are nothing new surrounding the NBA. I've even discussed it previously within the halls of this blog, explaining that star NBA players had a direct line to a bat phone of sorts to former commissioner David Stern's office.

In fact, just last week in watching the Warriors dismantle the Cavs in game four of the Finals, I was officially ready to hand the bat phone down to Curry. He is the face of the league, the first unanimous MVP in league history, and it would only seem right that the refs would give him the benefit of the doubt in tight situations.

Until last night, that is.

In effect, I agree with Kerr. A couple of those fouls were pretty ticky-tack especially in a Finals that has been pretty physical up until this point. Did the refs call it that way based on an executive order from the league? Did the bat phone revert back to LeBron James in an effort to finally bring the city of Cleveland a championship? As a proponent of conspiracy theories, I'd be inclined to say yes, all of this is true.

But enough is enough. Time to put the conspiracy theory to rest.

I'm seeing a suddenly hungrier team in the Cavs that are outplaying a Warriors team watching as their hubris finally catches up with them.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I liked the Warriors last season. I've liked Curry since his college days and enjoy watching them when they catch fire from beyond the arc. 

It's hard for me to root for the Cavs. As a Boston Celtics fan, LeBron James has broken my heart on more than one occasion. The man has received more generous calls from referees than many players have combined.

In these Finals, though, the Cavs have earned my allegiance in the Finals because over the course of the playoffs I've seen a Golden State team become more arrogant and whinier than the team that won our hearts last season. They've become a team that's hard to watch.

Don't get me wrong, a certain amount of arrogance is expected thanks to the regular season they had. They no they are good. But watching this team whine their way through games when a simple call doesn't go their way is frustrating to me as a fan of the NBA.

In that regard, it starts with Curry. Though he hasn't received the bat phone, Curry has assumed the mantle of complaining to the refs with every call that doesn't go his way. This was passed down from James, who received it from the Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant. Curry expects a foul call on every shot he misses. (James still does it as well so I don't think the torch has been officially passed).

Yes, there were some phantom calls against Curry last night. I also watched has he grabbed onto the jersey of a Cavs player every time a screen was set against him, all just to get around the screen quicker. 

In game five, Curry ran into a Kevin Love and threw himself to the ground in an attempt to get a foul called. Hitting the floor, he looked immediately to the ref. Correctly, there was no foul called. There was barely any contact and the screen Love set was actually legal, compared to the majority of screens I see in today's NBA. (Apparently hardly anyone fears for their groin when setting a screen in today's NBA. They prefer the offensive lineman clear 'em out style of screen.)

Don't get me wrong, Curry is not the only player that does this. Many of his teammates play the flopping game, as I'd estimate that Golden State players fall to the ground after 1/3 of their 3-pt attempts.  And the refs haven't been biting as much so in turn the Warriors are getting mad. Are the shooters getting hit? No. And if they do get hit, a foul is called. 

It may seem like I'm picking on the Warriors. I am, to an extent, because they are currently the living, breathing example of an NBA gone wrong. Teams and players across the league display the same sort of actions. Flopping has become the norm and arguing with a ref after every call has now become second nature. 

Back in the day, if a player that wasn't the team captain started complaining or yelling at the ref, they'd get a technical foul. Now, it seems any scrub can turn to the ref and complain about a foul, bad call, etc. Want to fix that? Start handing out technical fouls unless it's a designated captain. That might get players back to playing the game.

Yes, part of the whining and arrogance comes from an overwhelming desire to win. I get that. Adversity will arise. As players, you hope it doesn't come from the refs. And it's not like it's just been happening to the Warriors. The first two games of the series it appeared everything was going the Golden State's way. And yes, they complained as well.

Then the Cavs got some swagger back.

The Warriors, though they have won a record amount of games, have never seemed unbeatable, as they are just as apt to win by 30 as lose by 30. In game six, they had some of the worst passes I've ever seen from a professional basketball team. 

That's today's NBA, though, in which the three-pointer is favored over the dunk/layup and the mid-range jump shot (This is coming from a guy that loves the three). It's a game that is always changing, ever evolving but at some point teams that live and die by the three will hopefully learn their lesson.

Conspiracy? Not this time around. The answer to the the last two games is not the NBA handing down an edict to the refs to manipulate the action. The answer lies in James and Kyrie Irving, who are quietly dominating these Finals. It has been their play that has elevated the Cavs, but hardly anyone is talking about it. Instead, the focus has been on the Warriors repeating, Curry's struggles, and whatever the hell Draymond Green is doing.

James is averaging 30.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg and 8.5 apg.

Irving is close behind in points, averaging 27.5.

James scored 41 points in back-to-back games.

That's why this is a series again. Not conspiracies, not refs, and not commissioner Adam Silver's bat phone. (If he even has one. Perhaps Stern retired it). On Sunday night, two teams will enter the arena. One team will leave. Finally time to see who wants it more. Hubris versus desire. History versus history. Curry versus James.

Get your mouth guards ready, NBA fans. Game 7 is going to be a wild ride.


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