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Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play?

Wake up with the Celtics [1] and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Plenty of deserved concerns arose about the officiating following the Heat’s Game 1 victory over the Celtics in which LeBron James [2] & Co. made the same amount of field goals (32) and three fewer 3-pointers (12-9) but 12 more free throws on 14 more attempts.

Considering the NBA downgraded [3] Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal [4]‘s flagrant-one to a personal foul while upgrading Heat guard James Jones [5]‘ personal to a flagrant-one foul the day after Game 1, any gripes about the referees — Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Collins — were validated as more than just sour grapes.

NBA officials have long been criticized for their treatment of the league’s superstars. It’s a conspiracy theory born in the Michael Jordan [6] era and nursed along by the indictment of referee Tim Donaghy on game-fixing allegations (Donaghy appeared on Dennis & Callahan [7] Tuesday morning). While I wouldn’t go so far to include the NBA’s current referees — Sunday’s officiating crew included — in the same conversation as Donaghy, there is statistical evidence that James and Dwyane Wade [8] have received at least inadvertent star treatment throughout the 2010-11 season and into the playoffs.

The Heat averaged 27.9 free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, while their opponents averaged 24.2. Conversely, the Celtics averaged 23.1 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 24.1. More specifically, Wade and James combined for 17.0 free-throw attempts per game this season. By contrast, Rajon Rondo [9], Paul Pierce [10], Kevin Garnett [11] and Ray Allen [12] combined for 13.3 free throws a game.

But Wade and James get to the rim a ton, you say? That’s true. Each game, the Heat duo combined for 13.1 field-goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Hence, the big free throw numbers. But shouldn’t the Celtics’ Big Four — who combine for 14.0 field goals at the rim every game — be somewhere in that 17 free-throws per game range, rather than 13.3?

Not convinced? Consider this fact: Jordan averaged 7.7 free throws per game during his six championship seasons; Wade (8.6) and James (8.4) each averaged more this season.

In the playoffs, it’s actually gotten more lopsided in the Heat’s favor. In six games, Miami has attempted almost twice as many free throws as their opponents (176-105). Meanwhile, in their five playoff contests, the Celtics have taken 16 fewer free throws than their opponents (104-120) — highlighted by the 32-18 gap in Miami’s favor on Sunday afternoon.

If the NBA playoffs [13] are more physical than the regular season, you wouldn’t know it from looking at the Heat’s box scores. Miami was whistled for 20.4 personal fouls per game in the regular season, but those offenses have dropped to 15.8 in the playoffs. On the flip side, the Celtics were called for 20.5 fouls per game in the regular season — and that number has increased to 21.6 in the playoffs.

While the Heat’s playoff opponents have totaled 105 free-throw attempts in five games against them, Wade and James have shot 101 in those games by themselves. Throw in Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami’s supporting cast, and the Heat have taken 71 more free throws than their playoff foes while only outscoring the 76ers and Celtics by a combined 46 points over six games.

In the only playoff game that the free throw and personal foul numbers were even remotely close — when the Heat committed one fewer foul (17-18) while out-shooting the 76ers 21-16 at the line — Miami lost Game 4 in Philadelphia, 86-82.

Keep an eye on those fouls in Tuesday night’s Game 2. If the officiating crew of Joe Crawford, Jason Phillips and Greg Willard whistle both teams evenly, the Celtics could leave Miami in a 1-1 series deadlock. Then again, Crawford was a member of the three-man crew in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals [14], when the Lakers attempted 20 more free throws (37-17) than the Celtics. Let the conspiracy theories continue.


WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery and Kirk Minihane are live from Miami. Stay tuned to Green Street for more updates, but first check out Flannery’s notes [15] from Tuesday’s Celtics shootaround — including the obligatory Shaquille O’Neal [16] update.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail to brohrbach@weei.com [17] or a Twitter message to@brohrbach [18].)