MILWAUKEE — It's right up there with "My dog ate the homework," and "My alarm didn't go off."
From the beginning of the NBA Eastern Conference finals between Milwaukee and Philadelphia, Coach George Karl of the Bucks has been whining about the officials. This is the last excuse of a desperate man. Except Karl started using it right after Game 1.
And after listening to Karl and, quickly enough, his players, through the first five games of this best-of-seven series, one might think David Stern and NBC officials are standing behind the curtain and pulling the strings. A Buck can't touch a 76er without the whistle blowing.
It is the 76ers and Allen Iverson the NBA and NBC want to see play the Lakers, that's what the Bucks are saying. And maybe even believing.
Oh, and the injuries that Philadelphia players have--the broken bones and bruised hips--probably fake too. We imagine Stern and Co., before getting the officials to make the right call, are off doctoring X-rays.
So far, all the whining has done is get Karl's players so hot and bothered that they keep committing dumb technical and flagrant fouls, which afford the desperately offense-impaired 76ers plenty of free throws.
Karl said he was tired of hearing how well Philadelphia plays defense and how hurt Allen Iverson was, is or will be. Karl said after the 76ers had won Game 1 that the Bucks play defense as well as Philadelphia, the only difference being that Milwaukee always gets called for fouls and Philadelphia doesn't.
Before Game 5, while the 76ers were having a news conference complete with X-rays and doctors diagraming the break in the ankle of guard Eric Snow, Karl was rolling his eyes and babbling about how he figured the 76ers were describing another "miracle."
Milwaukee star Ray Allen told reporters before Game 5 he had evidence the NBA commissioner wanted the 76ers to win. Allen said family members told him they had seen Stern stand up and pay close attention to the Jumbotron when a replay was shown of Allen's two-handed shove to the ground of Iverson, which, by the way, was missed by officials. Apparently, by Stern's looking at the replay, Allen and his family deduced that Stern was taking the side of the 76ers.
One word of reality has come from Milwaukee forward Scott Williams.
"We lost our composure and gave them 10 points," Williams said Wednesday.
There were two flagrant fouls and a technical foul, and Philadelphia won by a point. Not hard to do the math.
When Karl was asked about his team's lack of composure, he blew up and left the news conference. This is the emotion the Bucks are feeding from.
Back in the locker room, guard Sam Cassell was saying that he thought his teammates were showing amazing restraint, considering the circumstances--circumstances being the refs.
But here's the problem.
The 76ers have earned the reputation of being a good defensive team by playing well and hard on defense all season. The Bucks have earned the reputation of being a jump-shooting team interested in getting that defensive part over with so they can quickly shoot more jump shots.
And jump-shooting teams don't get fouled much. And teams that have practiced and played defense hard all year learn just which shoves and pushes will be allowed and which won't and will get the benefit of the doubt because they always play defense hard. The team that wants to start playing defense hard only in the playoffs gets caught out of position.
So the Bucks have Glenn Robinson shoving Tyrone Hill to the floor or Tim Thomas hooking Hill by the shoulder and throwing him to the floor. Note to Bucks: That's not defense.
As much as everyone has given the NBA championship to the Lakers, watching this series has been exhausting and exhilarating. Both teams want to win. Sometimes too much. Karl has his guys all riled up and maybe that will still work.
Cassell sinks consecutive jump shots in Game 5 to give the Bucks a 63-55 lead. Great.
Then he fouls Iverson on a three-pointer. Bad enough. Then he argues about the foul and gets a technical. There's Iverson, shooting four three throws and making them all. Even worse. Because Cassell has bought into Karl's rants.
Robinson had taken 77 shots without shooting a free throw and was so mad he got two technicals and an ejection in Game 4. But watch Robinson. He doesn't like contact when he's shooting. He took an eight-foot jump shot as the clock ran out in Game 5, rather than chance the drive to the basket, where the 76ers might have had to foul him.
Karl is complaining that the NBA and NBC are treating Milwaukee like a small-market team.
So Karl behaves like a small-market coach. Yes, Philadelphia has been to the free-throw line 134 times to 77 for the Bucks. Yes, the Bucks have eight technical fouls and Philadelphia one. And, yes, those are both products of the way the teams play and has nothing to do with the markets they play in.
Karl has his players looking for insults. When you're looking so hard, you'll always find them.
Diane Pucin can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.