Hypothetical situation: It’s Christmas day in a packed Quicken Loans Arena, and the Golden State Warriors are playing the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Millions of people around the country, and most likely the world, are watching this game. There are 3.4 seconds left in the final quarter, the shot clock is off, and the Warriors are down by only one point.
Both teams are in the bonus, so any foul automatically means somebody is going to the line. Golden State has the final possession, and forward Andre Iguodala is set to inbound the ball. He throws a risky high-arcing pass towards the baseline, but successfully gets the ball to its “intended target” in forward Kevin Durant, who is being hounded closely by the Cavaliers’ nearby defender.
Durant runs to the three-point arc while looking for his shot, and suddenly feels a foot underneath him that causes him to lose control and trip. It was Richard Jefferson! Referee Mike Callahan sees it and calls a foul on Jefferson, sending Durant to the line for two. KD makes both, putting the Warriors up by one.
Cleveland is out of timeouts, so they have to inbound the ball and get it up the court quickly with only 2.5 seconds left. Kevin Love manages to inbound the ball to Kyrie Irving, who bolts up the court and heaves a half-court prayer that misses everything! Game over, Warriors win 110-109! The hearts of Cleveland fans are broken as the Warriors successfully get their revenge for a devastating game seven loss to the Cavaliers.
Remember, that’s a hypothetical situation.
Imagine that Richard Jefferson trips Kevin Durant instead, and that the referees didn’t make the call. Durant trips, can’t recover in time, and has to hoist up a prayer while still seated behind the three-point line, missing everything as the final buzzer goes off. The Cavaliers hang on and escape with a 109-108 victory at home.
Meanwhile, the next day, the NBA comes out with their final two minutes report, which indicates that Jefferson did indeed trip Durant. But also on a previous possession, LeBron James should have also received a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long after an admittedly impressive dunk. This would have led to a technical free throw that could have ultimately resulted in a tied game, and also a forced overtime.
Well you don’t have to imagine that part. It actually happened.
— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2016
NBA says two mistakes were made in Cleveland Cavaliers favor in final 2 minutes of win over Golden State Warriors https://t.co/qLTCaRK62L
— holly Jones (@holly3jones) December 28, 2016
Back story: In March 2015, the NBA began issuing public officiating reports of games that were decided by five points or less. Per NBA.com, the Last Two Minute Report, or L2M, would cover the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or the final two minutes of any overtime period if applicable. The purpose of the reports was to allow the league to be more transparent with teams and fans alike, as well as an attempt to prove that NBA officials are correct roughly 90 percent of the time – which is why the report includes correct calls, incorrect calls, and missed no-calls.
Since the reports first started, they have garnered somewhat mixed, but primarily negative reactions. Most NBA teams share are of the mindset that the L2M should be done away with. Durant, for instance, believes the reports are not fair to referees (even after the incorrect no-call on Jefferson was confirmed in the report), and they believe the NBA should get rid of it because officials are human and therefore not perfect.
“I think it’s [BS] and they should get rid of it… I think it’s [BS] that the NBA threw the refs under the bus like that… Just move on. Don’t throw the refs under the bus like that. Because the next game, that group of refs or whoever it is, are going to come out, and they’re going to ref the game. They’re going to be tense when they’re reffing the game, and they’re going to try to get every play right. They’re going to try to be perfect, without just going out and relaxing and making the right call.”” -Kevin Durant, via the San Jose Mercury News
This is not an issue that plagues only the NBA. The WNBA, for example, had a huge no-call issue in the Game 5 of the WNBA Finals this past fall between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks.
With 1:14 left in the game, and the Sparks and Lynx were tied at 71 each, Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike put up a big shot that put the Sparks up by two. However, that shot clearly came after the shot clock buzzer had already gone off. The referees did not call a shot clock violation and the Sparks were awarded two points. LA would go on to win that game 77-76. That’s right, only a one point victory in the final game of the WNBA Finals.
Suddenly, that missed-call likely changes everything. The WNBA would later admit that Ogwumike’s shot should not have counted due to the shot clock violation, but it was too little, too late, and the damage had already been done.
THIS from the WNBA: pic.twitter.com/8Xn9Jwq5u5
— Dawn Mitchell (@DawnAtFOX9) October 21, 2016
The WNBA does not issue formal last two-minute reports like the NBA does, opting instead to address such issues in media press conferences or statements and letters to the teams, but the implications are just the same. They report on what happened, but ultimately it changes nothing at all.
So what’s the point, then? Why bother?
One might argue that the Last Two Minute report is a great way for the NBA to appear more transparent, as mentioned above. It can provide a great look into why officials may call or not call things the way they do. Even many NBA players, coaches, and analysts don’t always understand how officials may differentiate between calls like charges or blocks, or what may warrant a technical foul. The L2M is a great way of explaining those potentially more curious aspects of the game that tend to confound those either watching or participating in the games.
For most, however, the L2M serves as nothing more than a brutal reminder that humans are not perfect and that life is not always fair. When an L2M is released containing blatant incorrect calls or missed no-calls, it doesn’t serve to help anyone. It’s not like teams can go back and play the final minutes of the game again and hope for a different result. Sometimes referees are penalized for continually missing easy or obvious calls, or for seemingly unwarranted or aggressive calls or conduct.
For example, now-retired referee Joey Crawford was famously suspended by then-commissioner David Stern in 2007 and sentenced to mandatory anger management classes after assessing Spurs forward Tim Duncan two quick technical fouls for sitting on the bench laughing. (Crawford would later apologize to Duncan for the incident, and he was reinstated the following season.) But other than the few instances of penalizing referee conduct during the games, the reports appear to achieve nothing.
So what does the NBA do to rectify the situation? Perhaps release a full 48 minutes report, plus overtime if necessary, instead of just the final two minutes? That actually isn’t any sort of solution, as it just gives players more to complain about. And by the way, when the players, coaches, or front office staff complain about the officiating, they are immediately fined by the NBA.
Once again, the teams lose and the NBA wins. Maybe release the reports and give NBA teams looser reigns to complain about officiating in games without having to worry about being fined by the league? Sure it wouldn’t directly solve any issues, but people would probably feel a whole lot better after getting to freely vent about it.
For now, it looks like everyone is stuck with the Last Two Minute report. And there isn’t anything that anyone can do about it. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just where things are at right now. So when reporters ask about officiating in the NBA, in order to avoid getting fined, perhaps everyone should just follow Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle’s lead until the NBA figures this whole thing out.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 27, 2015