Celtics

Did Michael Jordan push off on Bryon Russell? Veteran NBA ref Danny Crawford's take

Did Michael Jordan push off on Bryon Russell? Veteran NBA ref Danny Crawford's take

Following games, now-retired NBA referee Danny Crawford and his fellow officials would review video tape. 

But the routine, at least when it came to Boston Celtics games, had to be tweaked. 

And the reason can be summed up in two words. 

Tommy.

Heinsohn.

Heinsohn has a well-deserved reputation for being hard on referees, something Crawford admits he knows about all too well. 

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“Whenever we worked a Boston game, we’d always turn the volume down,” Crawford said on the Celtics Talk Podcast. “It was no way we would listen to the volume of those games because that guy was the worst to referees.”

While Crawford certainly had his share of memorable games involving the Green Team, the one game he officiated that has received renewed buzz of late is Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between Chicago and Utah. 

Not only did the Bulls close out that series, but it would also serve as Michael Jordan’s last game with the Bulls, as chronicled in ESPN's 10-part documentary "The Last Dance."

But it was the game’s ending, a Jordan game-winner with what some perceived as an MJ push-off against Bryon Russell that Crawford has been asked about for years. 

Before Jordan’s game-winner, Crawford recalled how physical and intense that game had been from the outset. 

“It was a very, very tough game to referee,” Crawford. 

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After the game, Crawford said he and the rest of the officiating crew, Dick Bavetta and Hue Hollins, went back to the locker room to look at the game video from the beginning until the very final play. 

“We saw it (MJ’s game-winner) once and we left,” Crawford said. “So, it was you (media) guys that were going off and going crazy and all that stuff. We saw it once and we walked out.”

While there was clear contact made by Jordan against Russell, it was unclear if the contact created the space or whether Russell’s momentum, already noticeably shifting away from Jordan, was the real reason why he stumbled away as Jordan raised up for the game-winning, series-clinching shot. 

“There’s a thing we talk about in refereeing; call what you see, see what you call,” Crawford said. “And that play is a difficult play. And it’s a debatable play. So, you can put that play in front of 100 people and you’ll go 50-50 on that play.

That being said as a referee, if you’re refereeing that play if you clearly see a push, you call a push. But that play even now looking at it on video, you see various angles you don’t know if it’s a push or not a push.

Crawford added, “And you can’t base it on what happened to Russell. Because if you blew the whistle based on what happened to Russell, easy call to make. You have to call what you see, what Jordan does and you don’t see it. And when you see it, I don’t know if that was a clear-cut push. So, you're damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And that play has left all these sports fans to debate and it’s a beautiful thing.”

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

By this time three weeks from now, the Boston Celtics will be back on the court playing other NBA teams.

The Celtics' first game of the 2020 NBA season restart isn't until July 31, but they'll start warming up a week earlier with three scrimmage games at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Here's Boston's three-game scrimmage schedule in the bubble:

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Friday, July 24
Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (5 p.m. ET)

Sunday, July 26
Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns (1:30 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, July 28
Celtics vs. Houston Rockets (8 p.m. ET)

The C's face three Western Conference opponents who aren't on their eight-game "seeding round" slate. Their final tune-up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets should be entertaining, although it's possible each team's starters play limited minutes as squads shake off the rust.

The NBA plans to release "potential" broadcast details at a later date, so it's unclear whether any of these games will be televised.

The Celtics began official practices July 1 and are set to travel to Orlando between July 7 and 9, where they'll join 21 other teams in the "bubble." Boston is the current No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and could be a legitimate championship contender.

Check out the Celtics' eight-game seeding schedule below:

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

It was three years ago that the fireworks that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had previously talked about (and we absolutely loved to talk about over and over and over again), actually came to fruition for the Celtics. 

That's when Boston did what no Celtics team under Danny Ainge’s watch had ever done. 

They went out and signed an All-Star free agent, then-27-year-old Gordon Hayward, who was still in his prime as a player. 

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“I can’t believe it’s been three years already, to be honest,” Hayward said during a teleconference call with reporters on Friday. “A lot has happened for me, for my family.”

It is impossible to look at the Hayward narrative in Boston without delving into the gruesome left leg injury he suffered just five minutes into this first game as a Boston Celtic. 

Once he was cleared to resume playing, there was the usual rust associated with a long layover. But more than the time off, Hayward had hurdles to clear beyond being physically able to return to play. 

For most of his career, Hayward leaned on his basketball instincts when it came to making plays at both ends of the floor. 

The injury changed that. 

Hayward had developed the kind of muscle memory with his game that allowed him to ascend to an All-Star level while in Utah, with play that on many nights looked seemingly effortless. The injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, forced him to work at bridging the divide that now existed between his mind and body as far as what he was capable of doing on the court.

It wasn’t all that surprising that it led to mixed results, with Hayward looking like the best player on the floor some nights and then inexplicably struggling against inferior competition the next. 

And just like fans at times would become frustrated with his inconsistent play, Hayward wasn’t enjoying this rollercoaster of emotions fueled by his up-and-down play either. 

The 6-foot-8 forward has spent his entire basketball career working to strengthen his body to withstand the physical rigors that come with being a slashing, attacking-the-rim wing who can also make teams pay for sagging off him with a mid-range game that can extend beyond the 3-point line. 

But the injury forced Hayward to really work at strengthening his mind, something that he quickly acknowledged as being the biggest takeaway from his time thus far in Boston. 

“For sure I hit a low during my injury,” Hayward said. “And had to work more than ever on that mental side, more than I ever had in my basketball career on that mental side. That’s for sure something that takes work.”

The topic of mental health among professional athletes has gained significant traction in recent years as a discussion which professional players such as Hayward are far more comfortable addressing publicly. 

“For sure the mental side is where I’ve grown,” he said.

And that growth has Hayward in arguably the best position he has been in as a Celtic. 

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While he was initially brought in to be either the team’s go-to guy or next in line, Hayward has effectively settled into more of a jack-of-all-trades role, allowing him to make an impact of significance without necessarily having to carry the team on a night-in, night-out basis. 

He’s averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, his best numbers in those categories since becoming a Celtic. 

Just as impressive has been his efficiency — he's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range this season.

And while he’ll be the first to tell you that his time in Boston has indeed been a rollercoaster of sorts, he has no regrets about his decision to become a Celtic which reunited him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

“It’s been some great moments for sure,” Hayward said of his time in Boston. “Obviously some not-great moments with the injury and everything but some great moments. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”