Courtside chatter

Officially, they can’t do better

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 9, 2010

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While the officials took a beating during the first two games of the Finals for their excessive calls, the 12 of them working the series are considered the league’s best, according to a season-long grading system.

According to league spokesman Tim Frank, the NBA pared a 36-man playoff rotation to 12 for the Finals, and nine of those have worked the first three games.

Bennett Salvatore, Bill Kennedy, and Dan Crawford worked Game 3 last night, and the remaining three will work Game 4 tomorrow.

Though some observers may believe differently, the officials are chosen by merit as well as experience.

According to Frank, every game during the regular season is watched by an NBA representative and reviewed by a group of league officials.

“Every call is graded throughout the year,’’ Frank said. “So when you get to selecting the playoff crews, you have observations from the supervisors on how they have been doing, combining that with what the accuracy rating says, how they call plays throughout the year.’’

The league also receives input from all 30 teams regarding officials and includes experience to formulate the 33- to 36-man rotation for the postseason.

Kennedy obviously has worked his way up the intricate system, because these are his first NBA Finals.

“As they advance by round, the obvious other factor is how they are doing in the playoffs,’’ Frank said. “And how they call a game in the playoffs — and obviously experience is a factor — how they call each round determines who advances.

“So by the time you get to the Finals, these are the 12 guys that are the best in the regular season, the best in the playoffs, cumulatively the best ratings with teams and the best observations from Ron Johnson and Bernie Fryer [of the league’s officiating office].’’

There are 56 full-time NBA officials, so roughly the top 20 percent work the Finals.

Gruden loves Finals
Former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden spent a few minutes inside the Celtics locker room before the game, then excitedly watched the team warm up. He is a proud Celtics fan.

“Just growing up a fan of basketball, and I played as a kid in Indiana, and I worked for Bobby Knight as a ballboy, so I grew up watching the Celtics, my dad was a Celtics fan, and it’s a global franchise, and so are the Lakers, and I’m just glad to be here.’’

When ESPN officials asked Gruden if he’d like to attend a game, he jumped at the opportunity. It was his first time attending an NBA game in Boston.

“I have seen the Celtics play numerous times but never in Boston, and they gave me a chance to come and I said I wouldn’t miss this for nothing,’’ he said. “I got to meet Big Baby in the locker room, talk to Hubie Brown and Jack Ramsay, and just the whole world championship atmosphere, the thrill, the mystique of the Lakers, obviously the Celtics in this environment, I got goose bumps.’’

Gruden said the Finals have a Super Bowl atmosphere.

“You have the best of the best,’’ he said. “It’s a little bit different in that it’s a seven-game series. They are going to stress loose balls, fundamentals, being where you are supposed to be, trusting each other, playing defense, taking care of the ball, just like we do in our game and it’s going to be awesome to watch.’’

Asked about his favorite Celtics, Gruden said, “Larry Bird, man. I even like Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald because I thought since he was tiny I could play. I love [Rajon] Rondo right now, to be honest with you.’’

Getting rise out of him
As the staff from NBA TV that included Kenny Smith, Kevin McHale, and Charles Barkley entered an elevator in TD Garden, a stadium security officer instructed people to walk deep into the car to create more space. When the elevator brimming with people, she yelled to those awaiting the next trip, “What goes up must come down.’’ To which Barkley retorted, “I hope she is talking about my weight.’’ . . . John Havlicek, who attended the game, said he would take his old Celtics teams against this current bunch. “But it would be close,’’ he said with a big smile.’’ . . . Notice anything different about the courts? The league made the astute decision to remove those obnoxious trophy logos that stretched from center court nearly to the free throw lines. The courts instead have a simple “NBA Finals’’ logo near the 3-point lines.

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