Let’s be perfectly clear: The Boston Celtics didn’t lose Game 3 to the Milwaukee Bucks because of poor officiating. They lost because they were slow to double-teams, settled for too many fade-away jump shots and allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo — 32 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists — to do his “Greek Freak” thing.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some hellacious officiating at TD Garden on Friday. Out-to-lunch referees and out-to-lunch teams aren’t mutually exclusive, you see.
There’s no denying the refs in Game 3 called an exorbitant amount of ticky-tack fouls. Whether they were deserved or not, the number of fouls did reach “ridiculous” levels, as Kyrie Irving said after his team allowed Milwaukee to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and dramatically slowed down the game.
Again, that’s whatever. It’s the Celtics’ job to deal with the whistles and adjust their play to how the game is being called. If the referees are calling a foul on nearly every play at the rim, it might be in both teams’ best interests to, you know, drive to the freaking rim. Too often in Milwaukee’s game-deciding third-quarter run did the Celtics counter physical play with passive, predictable offense.
What’s inexcusable, however, is when an official is just guessing. Even worse is when a ref allows a coach to persuade him into guessing.
Such ineptitude was on full display at one particular moment in the second half, when Celtics guard Jaylen Brown was whistled for “fouling” Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe.
Brown beat Bledsoe to the spot, cut off the angle and forced Bledsoe to move backward. But Bledsoe did the trademark NBA stumble-scramble thing, prompting Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer to yell at official Kane Fitzgerald, who was three feet from the play.
What happened next can only be described as embarrassing for Fitzgerald.
You love to see that in the NBA playoffs. Nothing better than an NBA referee pulling a “Semi-Pro” at the most important time of the year. And believe us when we say there were plenty of examples of sketchy officiating in Game 3.
If history tells us anything, it’s that the officials will overcompensate in Game 4 and do the Celtics a solid. Instead of calling the game fair and objectively, they’ll send the Celtics to the line a bunch of times and allow Brad Stevens’ team to be more physical with Antetokounmpo.
(Life isn’t the only thing that’s like a box of chocolates, as it turns out.)
Ultimately, the Celtics can’t dwell on officials. After Boston’s impressive Game 1 victory, Milwaukee has reasserted itself as one of the best teams in the NBA. If Boston wants to avoid a second-round exit, it will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to slow down a Bucks team that can beat you in many different ways.
The two teams will meet again Monday night in Game 4. Tip-off at TD Garden is set for 7 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images