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Joey Crawford explains how refs mishandled ‘The Brawl’

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Where is the lie?

Indiana Pacers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

While there was certainly a progression of (endlessly rehashed) events that led to the infamous “Malice at the Palace” fight that brought a swift and decisive conclusion to Indiana’s title hopes in November of 2004; it’s always been difficult to say that one thing, in and of itself, was the root cause, and therefore, questionable as to whether the elimination of any one of several root causes may have altered the course of Pacers history.

For instance...What if Ron Artest hadn’t hit Ben Wallace with a hard foul after the game had already been decided? What if Wallace hadn’t lashed out? What if Wallace hadn’t still been in the game with his team down double-digits with under a minute to play? What if Rick Carlisle wouldn’t have been managing injuries and had cleared the bench? What if Artest hadn’t reclined on the scorer’s table? What if the fan hadn’t chucked that beer?

These are just a few of the eternal questions, with soul-crushing hypothetical answers, which beg for the past to be left in the past; and yet, now, retired NBA official Joey Crawford is here to remind us that the refs dropped the ball in maintaining control of the situation.

During an informative interview on the ThunderBus podcast, Crawford, who wasn’t on the call that night, went into detail about what the officials could’ve done differently (Spoiler: “Get them off the floor” is mentioned with gusto quite a few times) and why he thinks it was handled “very, very poorly.”

“Here’s what should’ve happened: When Ben Wallace...I think the game was a 13 or 14-point game, if I remember correctly. I don’t know if there is three minutes or four minutes to go in the game. When something like that happens, and you have two big guys like that and they’re combative and the game is essentially out of reach and they’re pushing and coming back at one other, all you do is you go like this: You go in and you hit them with Ts and you throw them out. You go to each coach and you say, ‘Coach, they are done for the night. Technical fouls offset.’ Now, you go to replay. But you get rid of the players. Get rid of them. Get them off the court. Not only for the game’s sake, but for their own sake. Get rid of them. Get them off the court. Now, if those three referees would’ve done that, they wouldn’t have had the cup thrown at somebody that is laying on the table. I would’ve never let a player lay on the table. I would’ve just walked up and said, “You two guys, get out of here.” Get them out, and if you did have replay and you screwed it up, or there was something you could’ve done better, you bring the guys back onto the court. But, now, get rid of them — especially at the end of the game like that.

It just.. it irks me to this day....”

Us too, Joey. Us, too.

Some of that is obviously easier said than done (especially since Wallace would’ve needed to walk in front of Indiana’s bench to get off the floor), and the officials can’t be blamed for how the players and fans chose to react, but there’s also an alternate universe where **maybe** the whole thing ends with a hard foul and a shove in a statement win.

We’ll never know. However, given that the Pacers, a defensive powerhouse, had added talent and internal improvement to a team which had won 61 games the season prior, the debates and what-ifs for the 2004-05 squad will likely continue to rage on — even some 15 years later.

After all, nothing ever goes wrong to derail a team over the back-half of a season, right?

Check out the full pod below, including a discussion on why preseason referee camp would prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.