By Frank McLean
Tuesday night’s visit by the New York Knicks to the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Raptors was a very entertaining early season contest, but the game won 111-109 by the boys from Gotham could have had a different outcome. As seems to happen all too frequently, controversy reared its ugly head in the final minute of regulation time.
It seems that a couple of times every season mistakes by the referees comeback to bite the Raptors and take the possibility of a win away from the team. Granted this is not just a Raptors thing, talk to coaches, players and general managers of the other 29 teams in the NBA and they will tell you the same thing happens to their teams every year as well.
Here’s what went down with about 20 seconds left in the 4th quarter on Tuesday night. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony had possession of the basketball right in front of the Raptors bench and you could see that he clearly stepped out of bounds. In fact Anthony might have been no more the 10-feet from Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.
The referees did not make a call as Anthony went out of bounds which would have given the Raptors possession of the ball. When the play was shown on the giant video screen the fans in the arena went ballistic and for me it was most demonstrative I have ever seen Casey on the sidelines since he came to Toronto as head coach. The first thing that came to my head and that of others on press row is why don’t the referees go to the video and make sure they got it right?
It turns out that specific play is not reviewable.
For the past six seasons now referees have reviewed any out-of-bounds play that occurs in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and during overtime when they are not reasonably certain as to which player caused the ball to go out-of-bounds. However, there is nothing in that criteria that allows for the referees to go to the video and see if a player went out of bounds. In fact, a review of a player stepping out of bounds with the ball is specifically excluded from a second look.
After the game long time Raptors beat reporter Eric Koreen of the National Post was selected as a pool reporter to ask referee crew chief Ed Malloy what he and his crew saw in the game’s last 20-seconds.
When asked if they saw Anthony step out of bounds Malloy told Koreen. “When we came in, we reviewed the play. We did see Anthony step out of bounds and should’ve awarded the ball to Toronto.”
The NBA on Wednesday confirmed that yes the referees made a mistake on the play, but they also added that Anthony should have been called for traveling.
Before Wednesday’s night game in Philadelphia Dwane Casey said “The league spoke, I don’t want to get into it. It’s obvious what happened”.
When asked about expanding video replay Casey replied. “Yes, to get it right. That’s why we have it in. A play like that would have gotten it right, so yes I’m a proponent”.
The NBA is the only one of the big four professional sports in the North America that does not have mechanism allowing coaches to challenge calls made by the referees. The National Football League was the first league to institute the ability for coaches to throw a flags and ask the referees to review a call they made. For the most part many wrong calls have been corrected and teams have not been jobbed.
For the past two seasons Major League Baseball has used video replay and the National Hockey League has also brought it in.
Now it’s time for the NBA to think about this.
You hate to see what happened to the Raptors Tuesday night and realize this could happen to another team late in the regular season when a playoff spot is on the line or for that matter in the playoffs when advancing to the next round is on the line.
There have been complaints for years that it takes forever to play the last three minutes of an NBA game. So here is what I propose.
Each team gets one challenge that can be used only in the last two minutes of the game or overtime if they have not used it prior to the extra quarter.
To me it seems that most errors in a basketball game happen in the last two minutes of the game. That’s why referees can go to the video during that time and overtime to make sure they have out of bounds plays right.
This should help take pressure off the referees from any mistakes they might make at the end of a close contest that could determine the outcome of a game. It should be players doing that not the referees.
The technology is already there, you might as well use it.
Sports are played by human beings and refereed by human beings. Human beings make mistakes. That’s life in a nutshell. Bad calls not only affect a team’s won-loss record but for the referees their job performance grade is affected as well. After every NBA game a supervisor gives a grade on each referees performance that particular night and only those referees with the top grades get to work the playoffs.
Just like every player in the NBA wants to play in June for a championship, every referee wants a chance to work those championship games as well. That botched out of bounds call on Anthony means Ed Malloy and his crew will get a low grade for their performance Tuesday night. Let’s bring in a coaches challenge system to help get these calls right.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.