Twice this season the NBA has admitted after the fact that referees missed calls that went against the Los Angeles Clippers. Both times the calls came in games against the Golden State Warriors. Both games were close. Big calls were big and impactful.
Oh well. What are you going to do?
On the play in question, Chris Paul lost the ball out of bounds with 19 seconds left in the game and the Clippers down by two points. The initial call on the floor was that the ball had gone out of bounds off the Warriors, but such calls are reviewable in the final two minutes of the game, and upon review two things were immediately obvious to anyone with eyes: (1) the Paul went out of bounds off of Paul and (2) while Draymond Green had not hit the ball, he had fouled ball when he reached for the ball. As it happens, (1) is subject to replay review, while (2) is not, so the ball was awarded to the Warriors. The league officially announced today that Paul had been fouled on the play and should have been shooting free throws to tie the game.
The Clippers took a sanguine approach to the NBA's mea culpa. As it happens, the league office wasn't the only one reviewing video of the game today. The Clippers were watching plays also, and they found a lot more than one mistake. So neither Doc Rivers nor Chris Paul would take the bait when asked about that particular call. The Clippers had plenty of other chances to win that game.
That particular call is nonetheless interesting for several reasons. For one thing, take a look at referee Sean Wright on the call. He's in perfect position. He should be able to clearly see both the foul and Paul knocking the ball out of bounds. Yet he doesn't hesitate in signaling Clippers ball. Why? Because he knows that Green committed a foul, but he doesn't think it warrants giving Paul a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds left. So he makes a reflex compromise, Clippers ball out of bounds. For 46 minutes of every game, and for most of Wright's nine year's officiating in the league, that call has been fairly standard. But he failed to remember that he can no longer make that decision. The league's replay rules have taken the decision out of his hands in the final two minutes of the game, and in their distorted logic, possession can be overturned, but the foul cannot. Which leaves us with the following sequence of events:
A) In real time, Wright signals Clippers ball;
B) In replay review, the crew overturns the possession call and awards the ball to the Warriors -- but can do nothing about the missed foul because the rules will not allow it;
C) The next day, the NBA admits the correct call should have been a foul, two free throws for the Clippers.
So guess what? The call made in real time was closer to the correct outcome than the call made upon review! The referees stopped the game, made everyone wait, and then made the situation worse. The irony of the league criticizing their own crew for falling victim to the Catch-22 of the replay rules as the league wrote them is pretty delicious actually.
Now contrast that call with one made about 30 seconds of game clock earlier. When Blake Griffin is issued his sixth foul and disqualified, it was in a scuffle for the ball with David Lee, with the ball eventually going out of bounds. Did Griffin commit a foul? It's hard to say; it certainly wasn't a blatant foul. And assuming that the NBA understands that fans buy tickets and watch games to see the best players, one presumes that it is in everyone's interests (everyone but the Warriors' at least) NOT to make questionable calls that disqualify superstars in playoff games. ABC color commentator Jeff Van Gundy actually says during the broadcast "I would love to see on that -- and again, those are all hard calls -- just a deflection out of bounds and give the ball back to the Warriors" -- which is EXACTLY what Wright tried to do 30 seconds later! Of course, had the refs actually made the call that Van Gundy recommended, then they would have had to review the possession call, and that ball probably went off of David Lee -- so we'd be right back in the same situation.
(As if we weren't obsessed enough with this situation, consider this. Green made the go ahead free throws with 24 seconds remaining after a loose ball by Darren Collison on a rebound. It was only the second Clippers foul of the entire fourth quarter, but it was also the second of the final two minutes, the first of course being the sixth foul called on Griffin. The second foul of the final two minutes results in the bonus situation. Had the referees NOT called the foul on Griffin, not only would he still have been in the game, but the Warriors would have been inbounding the wall with 24 seconds left in a tie game after Collison's foul rather than making the go ahead free throws. It just keeps getting better!)
The only question that remains here is whether the NBA will modify their asinine rules. Usually it takes something like this -- a major screwup in a big game -- to get them to do something. Forcing the officials to ignore the single biggest part of their job (i.e. calling fouls) while watching a replay has never made any sense. I understand that you don't want foul calls to be able to trigger a replay review there's far too much room for abuse, not to mention it could make the already excruciatingly long end of games even longer -- but once the review has been triggered, obviously everything should be on the table in order to get the call right. This has been my position since they first allowed possession to be reviewed -- the NBA needs to finally get this right.