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Blazers, Mavericks, and the NBA’s instant replay system

Let’s talk about why the Mavericks are appealing a game decided on a blown goaltending call but the Blazers didn’t appeal under similar circumstances.

Portland Trailblazers vs. Dallas Mavericks Photo by Brian Drake/NBAE via Getty Images

Blazermaniacs undoubtedly remember an infamous missed goaltending call from earlier this season. On Feb. 7 Rudy Gobert “blocked” a drive by Damian Lillard with only seconds remaining in the game and the Blazers trailing by two points. Replay revealed that the block was actually an obvious goaltend. The botch cost the Blazers a shot at overtime and a possible win:

Lillard voiced his displeasure after the game, but Portland did not appeal the outcome of the game.

The Mavericks found themselves in a somewhat similar situation earlier this week against the Hawks. With seconds to go and trailing by two points, Dorian Finney-Smith blocked a lay-up by Trae Young but the refs immediately blew the whistle signaling a goaltend.

On review, the goaltend was overturned but John Collins’ putback basket after the whistle was added to the score. After the basket was scored the Mavs found themselves down by four with less than ten seconds to go. They’d go on to lose the game.

Here’s the video:

The Mavs have appealed the call and are asking that the final 9.8 seconds be replayed.

If the Mavs are challenging, why didn’t the Blazers?

Immediately after the Blazers loss to the Jazz, some observers began to wonder if the Blazers would challenge the outcome of the game. Portland’s appeal, however, would not have met the NBA’s standard of a “misapplied rule” and would thus be doomed to failure.

Simply put, the refs misjudged the goaltending call against the Jazz — they even admitted it after the game — but didn’t misapply any rules:

“No, it was not reviewable since no goaltending call was made on the floor. Goaltending is only reviewable if we actually call it. The call needs to be made for a goaltending to be reviewable. We’ve since looked at it via postgame video review, and unfortunately saw that we missed the play, and a goaltending violation should have been called.”

They blew the call because they didn’t see the goaltend, but at no time did they make a decision that conflicted with actual NBA rules.

Another example: What the refs did, in this case, is the NBA equivalent of not noticing an opponent slap Lillard’s arm while reaching for a steal. That’s a judgement call and cannot be successfully appealed, even though the Blazers would hypothetically lose out on a drawn team foul.

On the other hand, it would be appeal-able if the refs called the reach-in foul but did not award free throws, even though the Blazers were in the bonus. In this case the officials would be outright violating the league’s own rules and Portland could appeal based on the lost free throws.

What are the Mavs challenging?

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has indicated that he is challenging the ref’s interpretation of the dead-ball rule. Specifically, after the refs overturned the goaltend on Finney-Smith the whistle became retroactively inadvertent. They then ruled that Collins’ shot would count since he was already in the shooting motion when inadverent whistle was blown.

Cuban’s argument is that after a whistle is blown only shots that are already in the air should count. NOT continuation field goals. That would disallow the Hawks’ bucket.

Here’s the rule (emphasis mine):

Section IV—Dead Ball. The ball becomes dead and/or remains dead when the following occurs:

(1) Official blows his/her whistle

(2) Free throw which will not remain in play (free throw which will be followed by another free throw, technical, flagrant, etc.)

(3) Following a successful field goal or free throw that will remain in play, until player possession out-of-bounds. Contact which is NOT considered unsportsmanlike or unnecessary shall be ignored. (Rule 12A—Section V—i)

(4) Time expires for the end of any period.

EXCEPTION: If a field goal attempt is in flight, the ball becomes dead when the goal is made, missed or touched by an offensive player.

In this case, the refs misapplied the rule because their decision violated the procedure for dead-ball calls. Dallas contends that the play should have resulted in a jump ball at center court.

What outcome should we hope for?

Suggesting that plays that occur after the whistle may count would open the door for even more convoluted replay interpretations. For example, let’s say Collins had been fouled on his continuation, how would that be handled? The refs would blow their whistles twice indicating two dead balls on the same call?

Allowing continuation baskets after retroactively inadvertent whistles would also invite additional borderline judgement calls. Example:

That seems less ideal than the cut and dried “is the ball in the air?” decision that would be made under the current rules.

It pains me to say this, but I’m rooting for the Mavs here.