Throughout NBA history, we’ve seen plenty of conspiracies involving referees who may or may not have fixed certain games. The 2002 Western Conference finals is usually the first thing people point to when they claim that they NBA is rigged, and whether or not it was, that series was definitely suspicious.
However, one playoffs series that many fans have forgotten, which has saw its fair share of controversy, is the 2007 Western Conference semifinals, a matchup between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs.
During the regular season, the Spurs were was as good as any other team they’ve had before. They won 58 games, their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker continued doing what they do, and the team had the second best defense in the league, fifth best offense, along with the highest point differential. By all means, they were a championship-caliber team.
On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns were also amazing that year. In the 2006-07 season, they won 61 games, led by Steve Nash, Shawn Marion 6th Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa, and Amar’e Stoudemire — who came back from a microfracture knee surgery and basically regained his explosiveness and looked just as good as before.
This was arguably the best team they ever had during the Nash and Stoudemire era. In the West, the Suns were the two-seed, while the Spurs were the three. So who was first? The 67-win Dallas Mavericks, led by MVP Dirk Nowitzki who lost in the first round.
Dallas was considered as the best team in the NBA going into the playoffs, but fortunately for the Suns and Spurs, the Golden State Warriors did them a favor, as they were a matchup nightmare for the Mavericks. With Dallas out of the picture, it was gonna be either the Spurs or Suns who were gonna reach the Finals. That was the general consensus at the time — there really wasn’t any other team who had the talent and chemistry to be able to compete with those two.
Both of them won their first round series pretty easily, both in five games. That set up their second round matchup, and right from the start, it became one of the most controversial series ever.
After Game 2, with the series tied 1-1, Amar’e Stoudemire said in an interview that Bruce Bowen intentionally tried to injure him. He said, “”He kicked me purposely in the back of my Achilles. I almost came down wrong and he almost caused an injury. He’s known for doing that. I just hope the NBA and the commissioner take a look at that because it’s definitely a dirty play.”
Stoudemire also went as far as to say that the Spurs: “were a dirty team. Ginobili during the regular season kneed me in the crotch on purpose. I just hope the league takes a look at it and cleans the game up a little bit.” Considering that Stoudemire just had to sit out an entire season because of surgery, I can definitely see why he felt the way he did.
And now, we move on to Game 3, the most poorly officiated game in the entire series. The Spurs had a ridiculous number of calls go their way, especially in the fourth quarter. They only shot nine more free-throws than the Suns, but if you re-watch the game footage, some of the fouls called were really puzzling.
According to Bill Simmons, who wrote an article a few days after the Spurs won Game 3, he said:
“Congratulations to Greg Willard, Tim Donaghy, and Eddie Rush for giving us the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs so far: Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series. Bennett Salvatore, Tom Washington and Violet Palmer must have been outraged that they weren’t involved in this mess. Good golly. Most of the calls favored the Spurs, but I don’t even think the refs were biased — they were so incompetent that there was no rhyme or reason to anything that was happening. Other than the latest call in NBA history (a shooting foul for Ginobili whistled three seconds after the play, when everyone was already running in the other direction), my favorite moment happened near the end, when the game was already over and they called a cheap bump on Bruce Bowen against Nash, so the cameras caught Mike D’Antoni screaming sarcastically, “Why start now? Why bother?” What a travesty. Not since the cocaine era from 1978-1986 has the league faced a bigger ongoing issue than crappy officiating.”
The Spurs were up two games to one, and they were leading for most of Game 4, until the Suns made a furious rally in the fourth quarter. With less than 20 seconds left in the game, the Suns were up three, and Robert Horry hip checks Steve Nash into the scorers table on the sideline.
Now… it probably hurt, but Nash was fine. The Suns won Game 4, and Horry ended up getting suspended for two games. But the thing that completely destroyed the Suns was the NBA suspending Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for one game because they left the bench during the altercation. And of course, the Suns greatly missed their production.
In Game 5, they managed to score just 85 points, yet they were still able to keep the game close and only lost by three. Then in Game 6, Stoudemire would drop 38 points, but the Suns ultimately lost the game and the series, ending the playoff run.
To be fair, I think the suspension was fine. I mean, the rules clearly state that during an altercation, the players on the bench must not leave, or else it’s an automatic suspension. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the series was poorly officiated in general.
According to Tim Donaghy, who was convicted and sent to prison for betting on games, he claimed that another referee favored the Spurs and wanted them to win. Donaghy said he felt like the “2007 Suns were the best team in the league. And that whole series was officiated poorly, and one of the reasons is that Tommy Nunez was the supervisor of officials in that series. And he had a dislike for the Suns owner Robert Sarver, and he enjoyed the lifestyle in San Antonio, and liked to get back in the next round of the playoffs and continue to go to San Antonio. So it was a situation that he was steering the series to San Antonio in tape sessions.”
Donaghy also talked about the Robert Horry – Steve Nash altercation, and the suspensions. He said there was no way the league would suspend Stoudemire and Diaw if they were going into a Game 7. But unfortunately, losing Game 5 was just as important for them.
The Spurs would go on to beat the Jazz in five games in the Western Conference Finals, and then sweep the Cavaliers in the Finals.