Yeah, about last night... I'm not really sure what to say except this was definitely one of the biggest WTF games of the year. I admit, early in the year the refs really seemed to be on Detroit's side, but ever since the All-Star break ((Or is it ever since Scott Skiles started crying about it?)) the tables have turned, and hard.
It has to be tough to be Rasheed Wallace. His reputation always proceeds him with the refs ((Even the league admits this, rescinding several of the technicals called on him this year.)), and while this is partly his fault, there's nothing he can do when the refs simply go fishing for reasons to "T" him up. A. Sherrod Blakely's Booth Newspapers recap has an interesting account of just what happened leading up to his two technicals and subsequent ejection last night:
Wallace's ejection came after he got upset after being called for two quick personal fouls.
"They need your help!" Wallace yelled to no one in particular.
Knicks guard Steve Francis responded, "Ya'll need (expletive) help!"
Wallace and Francis went back and forth briefly, which is when official Bennett Salvatore - who at the time, was on the other side of the court - whistled Wallace for one technical foul, and official Tim Donaghy in near unison, whistled him for another which resulted in his automatic ejection.
Mind you, Rasheed was on the bench and Francis was in the game when this little exchange took place. Talking between players is no longer allowed? And isn't the player that should be, you know, focused on playing the game, the one that should be punished?
From there on, the Pistons uncharacteristically lost their exposure. After being whistled for an iffy offensive foul, Rip Hamilton (in a stupid yet understandable display of emotion) tossed the ball the length of the court. The ball hit the shot clock and caromed into the stands, prompting the refs to eject Hamilton, as well.
With their leading scorer and most versatile big man watching the rest of the game from the locker room, the Pistons simply couldn't hold off the rejuvenated Knicks over the last quarter and change. It was too close for too long, and even after Detroit jumped ahead to a two-point lead with 41 seconds left, it was hard to feel confident about their chances.
Jamal Crawford tied the game 101-101 with 35 seconds left and put the Knicks in the lead with (what else?) a free throw. After Detroit failed to score on the ensuing possession, Eddy Curry drew a loose ball foul with 18 seconds left and drained one of two free throws. Prince hit a couple of free throws to tie the game, but that gave the Knicks the ball with 13 seconds left and nothing to lose. Crawford then drained a 14-footer with two seconds left. Following a timeout, the best Detroit could manage was a desperation airball by Antonio McDyess.
Now, here's the really painful part -- after seemingly doing their best to hand the game to the Knicks, it was like the refs tried to cover their tracks by giving Detroit a generous call on Malik Rose, putting Dice on the line with 0.7 seconds left and needing both free throws to tie the game. Unfortunately, Dice, who has shot just 53.7% from the line this season and just 26.7% in his previous 16 games -- predictably missed his first shot. He then missed the second on purpose hoping a teammate could tip it back in, but instead the ball took a New York bounce into Jerome James' gut, never to be seen again.
As tough as it is for me as a fan to regurgitate everything that happened down the stretch, it has to suck even more for Chauncey Billups to do so minutes after the game to a room full of reporters:
Chauncey Billups, who scored 24 points, said afterward that he wishes the league held the officials publically accountable for their calls.
"My thing is, after the game, I have to talk about what happened down the stretch, why we did this or that," Billups said. "I wish the refs had to do that."
Billups wasn't the only one upset with the officiating, as Flip Saunders and Tayshaun Prince also spoke out:
"My thing is, if you're going to let them play, let them play," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said after the game. "There was a little bit of inconsistency, so it was hard to adapt to that."
The officials called 36 fouls in the second half, including seven technicals. And while the Pistons were careful to take some of the blame in a game they led at one point by 16, they wouldn't shoulder all of it.
"I think (the officials were) more of a factor tonight than any game we've played this year," said Tayshaun Prince, who scored 15 points. "Even though some other games were the same, I thought it was more important in this than any other one."
The team with the league's best record is never going to get much sympathy complaining about calls, and in the end Detroit was whistled for just one more call than New York, but it was impossible to watch this game and not feel like the refs were simply enjoying exerting their will.
Through all of the drama, there was one enjoyable moment late in the game: just after Detroit took back the lead with 41 seconds left, the Knicks called a timeout. Either he wasn't listening or no one told him, but coming out of the timeout Stephon Marbury didn't realize that he had just been benched for Nate Robinson. Just as play was about to start, the Knicks had six guys on the floor and Marbury had to be told that he wasn't in the game. He sheepishly returned to the bench with his head down. Ah, the drama continues -- there's nothing like watching Larry Brown prove a point, even if it meant pulling his best player off the court with the game on the line in the final seconds. Incidentally, Marbury returned to the court at the next stoppage of play 30-some seconds later at the next stoppage of play.
And, just as dour as ever, Brown even managed to sap some of joy out of the team's upset win in his post-game presser:
"I saw them playing hard," Brown said. "That's all we can do from now on. We've got to find out who in that locker room is committed to do that every night."
Well, Knicks fans, your team won the game, something they'll probably struggle to do 6-7 more times the rest of the year. Good luck on that lottery pick this year... err, nevermind.