There’s nothing worse than watching the outcome of a huge game changed by a blatant missed call. Well, at least that’s what we thought until Tuesday night’s Clippers Thunder Game 5.
With less than 20 seconds left in the hotly contested tilt, Thunder guard Reggie Jackson lost the ball out-of-bounds while attempting a game tying lay up. It appeared as though Jackson was fouled by Matt Barnes on the play but the official ruled the ball out-of-bounds in favor of the Thunder.
Because the play occurred in the final two minutes, the referees went to the monitor to verify it.
After viewing the replay two things were clear. First, the ball was last touched by Reggie Jackson. Second, Matt Barnes made contact with Jackson’s wrist causing the ball to cascade out-of-bounds.
Both teams had a clear case. The referees were in a pickle.
The exact same situation occurred a few weeks ago in a game also involving the Clippers. Chris Paul lost the ball out-of-bounds but was fouled on the play. The official did not see the foul and called the ball of bounds in favor of the Clippers. After review clearly showed Paul was last to touch the ball, the referees awarded the ball to Golden State effectively ignoring the foul.
In Oklahoma City, the officials did the exact opposite. They declared possession in favor of Oklahoma City by way of “inconclusive evidence.” What they really ruled was, “we messed it up, should have called a foul, so the best we can do is give it back to the team who was fouled.”
In both cases, someone had to lose. On the court it was the Clippers, both times, on opposite sides of the play. The real loser though is the NBA rulebook.
Replay is a spectacular tool that has helped take some of the late game burden off the officials. Unfortunately when the rules are not complete, the system is about as stable as the first little piggy’s house made of straw.
The precedent was set during the game in Golden State; ignore the foul, call the play. After that play, the league apologized to the Clippers. Same play, opposite result, and the league will once again apologize to the Clippers.
Some will say the replay system must go. They will be wrong. Some will say it must be expanded to allow the review of fouls. They will also be wrong.The answer is simple, call what makes sense.
The NFL went through a similar situation with inadvertent whistles and fumbles. Originally the rules called for the play to be dead the moment a referee blew his whistle, but after a myriad of plays that should have been ruled fumbles, the league changed the rule.
The NBA should follow suit. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. If a player is fouled causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the ball should return to the team who was fouled. Free throws cannot be awarded because the foul was not called on the floor. It doesn’t have to make sense in the context of the game, it just has to be fair.
The Clippers got burned twice, but they can’t blame either set of officials. The only thing to blame are the rules, and now it’s on the league to fix them.