There is little in the world more frustrating than watching a sporting event totally taken over by referees.
It doesn't much matter if the calls are correct or if they are a result of overzealous officiating. When the unique rhythm and flow of a game isn't allowed to develop because of incessant whistles, you've actually stopped watching sports and started watching something about as interesting as a city council hearing on rezoning a block in Queens to allow for the opening of a dog grooming operation.
That was what happened in the first half of Wednesday night's Knicks-Jazz matchup. The referees, under the illusion that people were there to watch him work, called 31 fouls and three dubious technicals to continually get in the way of what appeared to be an interesting little basketball game. Billy Walker came off the bench for 20 points for the Knicks, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton renewed their splendid college rivalry and two good teams looked ready to thrill the always excellent Salt Lake City crowd.
Alas, David Stern's NBA isn't about thrilling players. It is about bureaucratic manuevering by men in grey shirts. That meant Amar'e Stoudemire and Al Jefferson had to spend a lot of time on the bench and it meant that more players picked up technicals for behavior that wouldn't earn them so much as a dirty look from the nuns at a particularly autocratic Catholic school. Stern and six old scolds screaming about people on their lawn are the only people who think that this is a better NBA, yet somehow it is the league we are stuck with.
Things picked up a bit in the second half, there were only 25 fouls in the final 24 minutes, which left the Knicks defense exposed. They scored 68 points, thanks in large part to a brilliant stretch by Shawne Williams in the third quarter, but allowed 66 to go with the 65 they let in during the first half. Free throws played a role, as did Ronny Turiaf's foul trouble, but the Knicks simply couldn't repeat their strong defensive effort in Portland on Tuesday.
Bad as the defense and referring were, there's another steaming reason for the loss. When Felton was on the court, the Knicks outscored the Jazz by 10 points. He sat only eight minutes all night and the Knicks were outscored by 16 points in those eight minutes. Toney Douglas was supposed to be an emergency option only because of a shoulder injury, but Roger Mason played 10 of the least effectual minutes you'll ever see in the first half. That meant Douglas had to play when Felton picked up his fifth foul at the end of the third. The Jazz added six points to their lead in that stretch and you'll note that was the final margin of victory.
The Knicks are finally headed back home with a 2-2 record you would have eagerly signed up for when they set off for the other coast. Leaving on a down note makes that feel less enjoyable, especially when the Knicks were only allowed to be tangential players in their own demise.