The NBA’s marquee matchup on its biggest regular-season day gave fans a tight game down the stretch in a rematch of the last three NBA Finals.
It also delivered an overabundance of momentum-crushing official replays that provided free time outs, controversial calls and a lot of whining from ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
With 1:41 remaining and the Cleveland Cavaliers having rallied to tie the Golden State Warriors, 92-92, LeBron James knocked the ball out of bounds over Andre Iguodala’s head. Officials called a time out to review for possession.
At first glance, it was clear to the broadcast team and the rest of America watching the replay that the ball was last touched by James. Two minutes later, officials reached the same conclusion.
Golden State, in the meantime, gained a free timeout to draw up a play with the six seconds remaining on the shot clock. Because, they, like everyone else, knew that it was still their ball from the beginning of the time out.
Cue Van Gundy:
“Can’t we do something about this free time out?” Van Gundy lamented. “Can’t we make them stay on the court? … It’s a real hole in the replay rule.”
Fast forward to the 30.9-second mark in the fourth quarter, with the Warriors leading, 95-92. Iguodala knocked the ball out of bounds in a battle for a rebound with Dwyane Wade. It was a close call that officials once again turned to replay to review.
Van Gundy, again:
“This is a great ending,” Van Gundy said. “Are we just going to sit here while they watch monitors all the time? How much are we willing to watch replay?”
The officials were quicker with their decision this time to award the ball to the Cavs, but it wasn’t the last game-stoppage, which came on the ensuing play when LeBron James attacked the hoop with Kevin Durant guarding him.
Durant appeared to block James’ layup attempt from behind, and the ball sailed out of bounds. Again, officials were unsure of whom to award the ball and went to replay. But this replay came with the caveat of contact on the play. Durant made contact with James’ shoulder on the block, which could have been called a foul. But, per NBA rules, officials are only allowed to review the play for possession, not to look to correct a foul or non-call.
Officials, after a lengthy delay, awarded the ball to the Warriors, who went on to a 99-92 victory.
So, one more time… foul or no foul on this late LeBron James drive on Kevin Durant? pic.twitter.com/0licmNwUmM
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) December 25, 2017
At this point, Van Gundy was steamed.
“It’s a fallacy that we want to get the calls right,” Van Gundy said. “Because the most important ones, fouls or non-fouls aren’t subject to the replay rules. … If you can’t look at fouls, don’t have replay.”
Van Gundy and broadcast partner Mark Jackson were both determined that Durant had clearly fouled James, when in reality, it was a borderline call that could have gone either way.
But despite their frothing over a frustrating game-ending, the crux of their complaints is valid.
Getting the calls right in late-game situations is critical. Slowing the game to a crawl to parse replays on seemingly obvious calls while not having the freedom to correct some of the most egregious officiating errors is absurd. Being able to watch a replay without having the freedom to correct an obvious foul or non-call is ridiculous.
Something has to change.
Meanwhile, the last 1:42 of the game took 12 minutes of real time. There was only one team timeout taken during that time. Replay sucked energy out of an otherwise exciting end to a high-profile game.
These are obvious problems that can be easily addressed by the NBA. And they’re not new. Why players and fans are left to suffer them is a mystery.