Are NBA Playoff Games Fixed?

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Was the fix in to orchestrate a Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals, a historic matchup that would no doubt boost sagging ratings for the league's showcase event?

If one rogue former NBA referee is to be believed, that just might be the case. Tim Donaghy -- who pleaded guilty last year to felony charges alleging he took cash payoffs from gamblers and bet on games -- told investigators two officials were in cahoots with the league to extend a 2002 playoff series to a seventh game.

The 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings was the only series to go seven games that year. That series -- which the Lakers won -- featured a number of controverial calls. Players and coaches from both sides from both sides claimed the zebras had a direct impact on the outcome of several games.

Now obviously a guy like Donaghy is operating at a serious deficit when it comes to credibility. And with his July 14 sentencing date fast approaching, Donaghy may very well be willing to say just about anything to ensure leniency from the judge. He's facing a maximum of 33 years in prison for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.

But the seeds of doubt have been planted at the worst possible time for the league and commissioner David Stern. So instead of basking in the glow of the renaissance of the NBA's most storied rivalry, Stern must instead defend the credibility of his product.

To make matters worse, a startling 82 percent of fans actually believe the 2002 Western Conference Finals were fixed, according to a poll. And Donaghy is only part of the problem.

How can fans not be skeptical after seeing the Boston Celtics enjoy a 38-10 advantage in free-throw attempts in Game 2? How are they supposed to believe in the product when Derek Fisher is allowed to crash into Brent Barry at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals and not get called for a foul?

The NBA later admitted the refs blew that one. But that missed call ultimately enabled the Lakers to take a commanding 3-1 series lead over the San Antonio Spurs. That botched call no doubt had skeptics wondering if the league preferred having the large-market Lakers in the Finals following last year's disastrous Spurs-Cavaliers matchup which was a television bust of epic proportions.

"We welcome scrutiny. This is something that should be scrutinized," Stern said at Staples Center prior to Game 3 of the Finals between the Lakers and Celtics.

Indeed, the spotlight is on the NBA -- for now. But if any more allegations like Donaghy's surface, the lights will no doubt go out on Stern's league.

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