Complaints on Officiating Take a More Serious Tone
By CHRIS BROUSSARD
AST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 10 - At first, it seemed like mere gamesmanship, with Byron Scott tweaking the officials, the way Phil Jackson and Pat Riley do, in hopes of receiving more favorable calls. But when Rod Thorn, the Nets' president and general manager, chimed in today, the Nets' charges of biased officiating in favor of the San Antonio Spurs gained more resonance.
It is one thing for Scott, the Nets' coach, who has gained a reputation for making volatile comments, to complain about the officiating, and it is quite another for Thorn, who spent 14 years as the N.B.A.'s executive vice president for basketball operations, to do the same.
During his tenure with the league office, Thorn oversaw the officiating, critiquing referees when necessary and fining coaches and players who criticized the officials. Consequently, he may be more tolerant and understanding of the human foibles inherent in officiating than any other executive in the league.
But today, with the Nets trailing by two games to one heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night, Thorn refused to hold his tongue. The Nets, ranked high in the league in free throws attempted, have tried 30 fewer free throws than the Spurs in this series. Thorn sees only one explanation for such a discrepancy.
"When I'm looking at what's happening on the court, we drive to the hoop as much as they do, but they're getting a lot more calls when they go to the basket than we are," Thorn, his voice rising, said in a telephone interview. "Nobody goes to the basket harder and with more authority than Kenyon Martin, and he's only shot 12 free throws in all three games.
"If they want to call it loosely, I'm fine with that. But do it on both ends. It can't be that way on one end and not that way on the other. It's not like we're Dallas and we're a jump-shooting team."
Thorn was so incensed after the Nets' 84-79 loss in Game 3, in which the Spurs attempted 35 free throws compared with the Nets' 17, that he spoke with Stu Jackson, his successor in the league office.
"In my three years here, I have complained about the officiating two times," Thorn said. "I just don't do it. But to me, you can't just sit idly by without voicing something. You're derelict in your duty as an officer of a team if you just sit by and don't say anything."
Jackson, the league's senior vice president for basketball operations, is somewhat amused by the complaints of Thorn and Scott.
"The officiating in this series needs no comment," Jackson said. "It has been excellent. I think there's a certain amount of gamesmanship involved and I can appreciate the organizational coordination between Rod and Byron. That's why they're as successful as they are."
Though Jackson sounded unfazed, Thorn's comments could affect the way the finals are officiated. After the officiating was roundly criticized when San Antonio and Dallas combined to shoot 165 free throws in the first two games of the Western Conference finals, the refereeing changed drastically, and the teams shot just 169 free throws over the next four games.
In this series, the Spurs have attempted 88 free throws, 30 more than the Nets. Duncan alone has shot 36 free throws, only seven fewer than the Nets' entire starting lineup. The Nets' average of 19.3 free throws is much lower than their average during the regular season and the Eastern Conference playoffs.
During the season, the Nets ranked fifth in the league, one spot ahead of San Antonio, with an average of 26.77 free-throw attempts a game.
Over the course of their three playoff rounds in the East, the Nets averaged 29 free throws a game.
"I think that Tim Duncan gets away with a whole lot of things on the defensive end that Kenyon Martin does not get away with," Scott said. "So in my opinion, the officiating has been a little one-sided."
Martin, who has been in foul trouble in each game of the series, would say only, "Nice way to put it."
The Spurs' free-throw advantage is nothing new for them. During the regular season, they held opponents to an average of 21.18 free throws a game, second lowest in the league. They also committed the fifth fewest fouls in the league. Throughout the playoffs, they have attempted 190 more free throws than their opponents.
Jason Kidd, who has attempted only 10 free throws this series, would not toe the company line.
"It's not the officiating," Kidd said. "We can't just settle for jump shots. We have to take the ball to the basket and be aggressive. The officiating has been, I think, great."
Despite his anger over the way the games are being called, Thorn is pleased with Kidd's outlook. He said that neither he nor Scott had brought up the officiating with the players.
"Once you start complaining about the officiating, you set your team up for a fall," Thorn said. "I don't say anything to the players because I don't want them thinking that if we don't get a call, we're not getting the fair end of the stick. They've just got to play through that.
"But I think it is discouraging when they're attacking the rim and not getting the same calls as the other team. It's discouraging."
This team almost NEVER cries about the refs, for once they are and it is about time. The refs are showing the Nets NO respect. They did this last year in the Finals. Shaq had a total of 6 fouls called against the Nets. Now I know we couldn't have won that series, but get real 6 friggin fouls. Now we have this years finals and we are still getting crapped on by the Refs. There was a 9 foul difference between the Nets andf Spurs in game 3 IN OUR BUILDING. That is pure bull................ that the Spurs get more respect that the Nets in their own building.