The greatest players in two sports reminded us over the weekend why we’re fans. On Friday, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving unleashed a record-breaking offense to keep the Cavs alive for one more game against the no longer invincible Warriors.
On Sunday, the Penguins and villain captain Sidney Crosby grabbed the Stanley Cup from Nashville in a 2-0 game featuring defense and goaltending, blood and broken teeth.
The stages were huge. The players were magnificent.
Too bad the men blowing the whistles weren’t up to the task.
In both games, botched calls by ham-fisted refs muddied the stories. In both, bonehead officiating decisions impacted the outcome.
Start in hockey, where the Predators’ Colton Sissons scored a minute into the second period of a scoreless Game 6. Sissons found a loose puck behind Penguins goalie Matt Murray and poked it into the net. Clean goal. Or so it seemed.
Even as Preds fans hoisted their catfish in celebration, referee Kevin Pollock waved it off. Pollock said he had lost track of the puck before it went into the net — and so therefore had blown his whistle a millisecond earlier. No goal. No appeal. No luck.
Hey, it happens. But this was far from the only moment of the series that had Nashville fans thinking the fix was in. A P.K. Subban goal in Game 1 was overturned on a dubious offsides call. Crosby’s cheap shots were ignored throughout. All of this left Preds coach Peter Laviolette fuming behind the bench like an irate dad. Old-time Flyers fans probably evoked the name of Leon Stickle.
The NBA officiating Friday night was even more egregious. Somehow, in a thrilling game featuring the sport’s top stars, refs Mike Callahan, Marc Davis and John Goble nearly stole the show from James, Irving, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.
Random technical fouls were called, expunged and reassigned. Golden State’s Draymond Green was seemingly tossed from the game, and then somehow invited back in. Zaza Pachulia got away with a WWE-style groin punch.
Fans on Twitter (not always the most logical of arbiters) screamed in the first half that the NBA was rigging the game for Cleveland. Then, social media buzzed in the second half that the league wanted Golden State back in. Silly as it seems, both arguments appeared to have merit.
I don’t buy that there’s a master plan to fix games. But I do agree some referees in all sports go into games with preconceived notions. The most notable ref in Friday’s game was Callahan — who has now called 12 straight Cavs wins, including the last three times they have beaten the Warriors.
Fans often whine against officiating in all sports. Usually, they’re just viewing the world through the lens of their favorite team, which — regardless of who it is — hasn’t received a fair call in 50 years.
But sometimes the fans are right. Sometimes the guys in stripes are inept. That occurred in the biggest games in hockey and hoops last weekend. And both sports are worse for it.