In the closing moments of regulation in Game 1 of the NBA Finals last Thursday, officials overturned a charging call on Kevin Durant, reversing it to a blocking call on LeBron James after replay review; changing the entire course of the game in the process. The Warriors went on the win in overtime, 124-114. Twitter exploded, setting off a diatribe from fans around the world against the game’s officials.
As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz documents, an assembled group after the game - including Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s new Head of Referee Development and Training - reviewed the critical play in question. Arnovitz relays that the crew is confident that they made the correct call:
Back in the officials’ locker room, following the game, the crew that had convened to review the call is relieved. The process, to them, had fulfilled its mission, and they’re satisfied they got the game’s biggest call correct. Still, there’s a tension in the air, the collective knowledge that, try as they might, officials are powerless against the whims of the basketball deities.
”It can be easy for 47 minutes and 20 seconds,” McCutchen says. “But our work is 48, or in this case 53.”
The officials ruled that they were also justified in reviewing the call in the first place, noting that the eyes are drawn to a player’s torso in such a play, as opposed to the feet, as Arnovitz explains:
Twenty feet and seven hundred pounds of bodies had crashed into each other at high speed. All the while, the three officials, several feet away, had to focus their eyes on Durant’s upward shooting motion and the positioning of James’ torso, as well as the location of his feet. The replay rule was instituted precisely because that to-do list is nearly impossible for a human being.
”You want to solidify that, yes, that was the exact process we want to follow to call this play correctly,” McCutchen says.
Such a replay review is permitted inside of two minutes of the fourth quarter and the entirety of overtime. Once the uncertainty over the defender’s proximity to the restricted area prompts the review, the officials are permitted to assess the accuracy of the block/charge call on the floor.
Arnovitz’s piece also looks at the bigger picture in terms of the player-official strife the league is embroiled in, and the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard is mentioned:
To McCutchen’s point, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard told ESPN’s Chris Haynes in March that he felt the level of discord between players and officials was overstated. Lillard expressed a sentiment of empathy, the likes of which McCutchen and his team aspire to establish.
”Their job is so tough,” Lillard said. “We see the stripes. We don’t always look at them as men or as people. And I think that’s part of the problem. The way we address them sometimes, I kinda gotta take a step back and put myself in their shoes.”
Thursday’s overturned call will certainly go down as one of the most controversial in the annals of NBA Finals history. As the league continues to try and improve the official-player dynamic, as well as the general public’s trust in NBA officials, Thursday’s Game 1 is a great reminder of just how polarizing an official’s job can be at the highest stage, and the ramifications a single call can make.