The officiating in the NBA has had its highs and lows throughout history. One of the lowest points came in 2002 in the Lakers–Kings series in the West. Anyone unbiased who watched that series had to think that the referees are favoring the Lakers. Lakers eventually won the controversial series, but the Bucks vs. Sixers series in 2001 was every bit as heated.
Milwaukee was whistled for over 60 more fouls than the Sixers, they had 12 technical fouls to just three for the 76ers, and the Bucks were whistled for five flagrant fouls to zero for the Sixers. However, the play that captivated the most controversy was the flagrant foul called on Bucks’ starting center Scott Williams. The league suspended Williams for Game 7, even though he hadn’t been ejected when the call was made. And that was the game-changer, as Sam Cassell said on the Forgotten Seasons podcast.
“We’ve missed Scot Williams. At that time, we relied on him. He gave us an outlet. We had three guys that could play pick and roll basketball. If you didn’t trap us or put two bodies in front of us, most likely, we would score. Williams would make a 15-foot jump-shot all around the basketball court – elbows, wings, so not having him out there it limited our offense output. They just packed the paint on us. We’ve had Ervin Johnson and Jason Caffey, who played a good game that day, but they weren’t Scott Williams. Williams was automatic from 15-foot jump-shots. Losing him, that was the part of why we lost the game. If we had him, we would’ve had good chances of going to the NBA Finals”, Cassell said.Sam Cassell, via Forgotten Seasons
George Karl was the coach at the time for the Bucks, and he also shared his thoughts about the series on the Forgotten Seasons podcast. Karl agrees with Cassell that the suspension of Williams shifted the momentum, but he also admits he made a coaching mistake.
“It’s about how the karma in the series turned against us, between Games 6 and 7. We’ve blown them out in Game 6, and I made a coaching mistake, and Larry Brown did something that I’ll always remember. He played AI in the fourth quarter of that game, and AI found some rhythm in that quarter. We were up by 30, and AI played and got some rhythm. Then they suspend Scott Williams while we’ve been on the airplane flight to Philadelphia. And Scott was our intimidator, they had Mutombo and Tyrone Hill, and Scott was the guy standing up to these guys. So you took our size and a man who can make a jumper, and then Ray Allen gets hurt in the second quarter, sprains his ankle. Then Sam and I have a little discussion, and Sam tried to do a little too much in that Game 7. He tried to take it on his shoulders, and I respect that. Instead of trying to figure out the flow, because when we lost Ray, we broke out a little bit, me and Sam could’ve been a little tighter. But that was a hard situation, and also AI had a great game”, Karl admitted.George Karl, viaForgotten Seasons
At the time, everyone knew the NBA wanted the Allen Iverson – Kobe Bryant/Shaq Finals; that was the sentiment and, from a business standpoint, a logical desire from the Association. Milwaukee was a small market, and the Bucks’ locker room wasn’t as flashy as the Sixers’. Philadelphia had the MVP Allen Iverson, the Sixth Man of the Year Aaron McKie, and the Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo. In the end, the Finals between the Sixers and the Lakers happened, but the controversy behind it will never fade.