Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 19, 2011 under Commentary, News | 8 Comments to Read

Observers Notes

Danny Crawford has refereed 18 Maverick playoff games since 2001, and yes, Dallas has registered a ridiculous 2-16 record in those contests. That’s not only statistically significant, but adorned with flashing lights and warning signs; as much as we’d like to sweep all of this under the rug, the numbers are glaring, particularly in contrast to the Mavs’ otherwise solid playoff performance. Something could very well be up with Crawford, to a degree that impacts his ability to officiate a Maverick game fairly.

We just don’t know. That record (in addition to any foul differential, free throw differential, or other miscellaneous refereeing measure you can conjure) tells us to be on the lookout, but not to indict.

I offer this with absolute certainty: there is no more dreadful playoff narrative than one involving officiating. Referees are the supposedly impartial mediators of any athletic contest, and once their credibility — for reasons of bias, not necessarily ineptitude — comes into question, the entire discourse falls further and further into the abyss.

So tonight, watch the game carefully, and keep an eye on Crawford. Be skeptical if you will, but don’t go hunting for evidence of a conspiracy. The sheer improbability of the Mavs’ performance in Crawford’s games unfortunately demands that fans of the Mavs and the league at large be alert, but not that anyone subscribe to paranoia, madness, or defeatism. Fans of a team wronged can sometimes engage in the type of tribalism that isn’t healthy for anyone involved, so please, please, stay reasonable. We’re going to see how things play out, in a crucial Game 2 between the Mavs and Blazers, with the Crawford subplot running in the background.

Hopefully this is the closest it ever gets to center stage.

  • andytobo

    I used to find some of the stuff David Stern did funny—like demanding that everyone use a new ball, and challenging, in the last playoffs, anyone to try him, just try him–but perhaps just because of the nature of coverage in basketball of late (we are getting deeper into the story, I think), the autocracy, the inflexibility have become harder and harder for me to appreciate. Maybe I don't know what he's up against, maybe it's no harsher than in other workplaces. I can understand taht Stern would be unwilling to KEEP Danny Crawford from reffing a Mavs game, because of what that might imply. But to do it right after Nate MacMillan very publicly criticized the officiating? There may be nothing the rest of us can DO, but we don't live in David Stern's world–and it's hard not to look at this and at least imagine that we see Nate MacMillan criticizing the officiating and the most notoriously hard-on-the-Mavs ref getting tabbed as two connected events.

    • Occassia

      I have a similar confusion with Stern's appointment of Clay Bennett to chair the Relocation Committee. It can't *really* be what it seems. Can it?

      The stats for the 4th quarter of Game 1 (thousgh a far smaller sample) are as persuasive as those of Mr. Crawford when officiating a Mavs game. Alas. Ideally, officiating would never figure in the narrative, but it appears that, in this series, it unavoidably will.

    • bbsf

      and yet, in retrospect (post-game), it was an excellent remedy for macmillan to stop complaining and mavs fans to stop thinking crawford is pure evil. +1 for mr. stern tonight.

  • http://twitter.com/Rick_Dawg Rick Dawg

    I find it funny that Dallas fans are complaining about the officiating. Maybe the reason you lose games when Danny Crawford refs is because he refs the game the right way and you guys just aren't as good as you think you are. There may be only 1 other referee better than Danny Crawford. He just doesn't go for the flopping crap that Dirk and JJ do. Don't hate the ref, hate the way your guys are flopping fish. It may work against some stupid refs, but Danny Crawford is a GOOD ref and he doesn't fall for that stupid crap. That's the only reason your record is so poor when he refs.

    • Nick

      You have to understand, any post with the word flopping fish and Crawford is immediately going to remind everyone of the 2006 NBA Finals, not whats going on now

  • finzent

    I'm pretty sure there's not much to those numbers. There are thousands of possible team-ref combinations and it's only to be expected that there would be outliers like this in one or more of them. Also, every theory that holds that this record is due to anything other than coincidence would ascribe motivations to Crawford that seem entirely implausible to me (why would he threaten his job just to screw over a random team?).

    If anything this whole discussion just makes it harder for Crawford to referee Mavs games unselfconsciously. It seems very understandable to me that he would on some level try to dispel any notion of bias in last night's game. That stuff affects people, and I don't think this discussion helped in creating an environment that is conducive to good, objective refereeing.

  • brad

    If the spotlight is on Danny Crawford I would think he would want to officiate the game correctly – not to give the Mavs calls they shouldn't get. Scrutiny of the refs is a good thing. We're all held to certain standards in our jobs – they should be no different.

    • finzent

      Yeah, well, scrutiny is great. Implicitly demanding referees to call their games in a way that minimizes weird statistical outcomes over a long period of time is not so great. Because you'd get those outliers even if each and every ref was perfect.