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Donaghy: Dislike of Suns owner Sarver was factor in rigging of Spurs series

Tim Thomas #2 (R) of the Phoenix Suns looks in on referees (L-R) Tim Donaghy #21, Bill Spooner #22 and Eddie F. Rush as they discuss the proper call on a play where Thomas was flagrantly fouled by Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs April 28, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

By now, you know the story.

Longtime NBA referee Tim Donaghy resigned in 2007 after reports of an FBI investigation surfaced that the referee was betting on games and particularly influencing those he was gambling on.

One of those games was Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs.

While the free throw discrepancy wasn’t extremely off-balance, the situational factors of calls going against the Suns and in favor of the Spurs in the fourth quarter stood out. The Spurs pulled away in a quarter they attempted 13 free throws in. The refereeing of that game was widely criticized at the time, beyond the usual fanfare. Turned out, there was something behind it besides human error.

Donaghy revealed on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta that it was a specific game the referees decided to choose because of one referee’s particular disdain for Suns owner Robert Sarver. That overseeing referee pointed out specific tendencies on film for the crew to essentially rig in favor of the Spurs.

“Obviously, everybody knows I refereed one of those famous games with the San Antonio Spurs where [the Suns] were definitely the better team in that series and San Antonio went on to win that series,” he said.

“Tommy Nunez, who was the group supervisor at that time for that series, didn’t like Sarver, who was the owner of the Suns at that time, and was always pointing out in the tape sessions of things to call against Phoenix and things not to concentrate on against San Antonio,” Donaghy said. “And I think it put San Antonio at an advantage.”

As you can see in the below montage if you don’t remember from that time, it was getting to the Suns.

Steve Nash, in particular, was visibly upset with the officials, something he didn’t often do in his career. Mike D’Antoni received a technical foul in the fourth quarter.

Donaghy is on the laundry list of moments throughout the franchise’s history that have continued to see them elude a championship.

Bickley & Marotta

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