Criticizing the referees is the international pastime for fans of every sport as losses are bemoaned and shortcomings blamed on those unloved (and allegedly) myopic zebras. Nothing new here.

Cynicism and conspiracy theorizing are particularly rife in this part of formerly Soviet-influenced Europe, with anything up to and including Eurobasket losses. Again, nothing new here.

A PBL match of last Wednesday saw playoff-contending Spartak St. Petersburg lose at Triumph Lyubertsy, 82-73, in a crucial match involving a few other clubs. This immediately spawned at least one nicely edited clip of referee miscues from the game which may have cost Spartak the much-needed win. One more time, join in if you know it: Nothing new here.

But.

Like the best (i.e. correct enough) conspiracy theories, the idea that something suspicious was happening in the Triumph-Spartak match is made a bit compelling upon visual examination. Leaving aside this game’s playoff implications and after watching this clip several times, BiE is ready to offer the following possibilities for the, um, rampant anomalies in the refereeing:

• PBL referees – or at least this bunch – are shockingly incompetent
• PBL referees – or at least this bunch – sometimes hit the vodka a tad too hard before a match
• Those workshop classes with the Royal Shakespeare Company have really paid off for the Triumph players
• Flopping has officially become an art form in Russian basketball, and the whistling refs merely sought to show their appreciation of such
• Some kind of personal vendetta by the striped ones against the home crowd

Or perhaps the result really was decided beforehand … damn, BiE’s been living in Hungary too long.

Whatever you believe, following is an ultimately hilarious clip of game “lowlights” that could induce nightmares in Jeff Van Gundy, David Stern, and/or any player ever badly burned by Joey Crawford.

(For equal time’s sake, the league’s official highlight clip follows.)

And now, the implications.

Because of the loss, Spartak dropped to 8-9 and into fifth place; Lokomotiv Kuban was then 9-7 and a solid 1½ games up on Spartak. Triumph meanwhile moved up to 10-5 and into the driver’s seat for the no. 3 seed in the upcoming playoff tournament.

Said tournament, however, is actually two tourneys in one. One round has the top four teams competing for the championship, while a bracket featuring the next four teams determines the PBL season-ending nos. 5 through 8.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Most reckon that CSKA Moscow will win out, with two home games remaining against Krasnye Krylya Samara (currently in seventh place at 7-10) scheduled for tomorrow and May 7. Two wins would see CSKA closing the season as the top dog. The inherent advantages of Triumph as no. 4 seed for The Red Army are three: location, location and location. Since Lyubertsy is an oblast of Moscow, the CSKA players would need to do little more than take a bus ride for game three – a nice perk after the team’s return from playing the Euroleague Final Four festivities of May 10 through 13 in Istanbul.

Of course, none of this is extremely relevant any more, as Triumph foiled all plans by smoking Lokomotiv, 87-69>, in a big away win that essentially locked the former into the no. 3 seed and a series with BC Khimki Moscow region.

One other, simpler theory – albeit less developed – exists for the black-and-whites’ wackiness. The description on the above-posted YouTube clip notes that it “was [a] mistake to protest against referees last Sunday…” (Anyone care to enlighten BiE on the specifics here…?)

As for Spartak … well, the side still would have needed quite a combination of events – including a Lokomotiv loss at home against Triumph – to have remained in contention for the big bracket.

Nevertheless, right now Triumph, Lokomotiv and Spartak are playing out their strings of one or two games apiece locked into the three- through five-seeds; one way or another, referee decisions changed the outcome of this game and may have prematurely ended Spartak’s regular season. Nothing new here?

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