Several months ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban praised the NBA for issuing postgame apologies for missed calls at big moments. Unfortunately, he's probably not going to be so happy about the league's latest admission of error.
Tuesday night's terrific game between the Mavericks and Golden State Warriors ended on a thrilling buzzer-beater winner by Stephen Curry that broke a tie and gave the Warriors a 122-120 win. The loss pushed the Mavericks into ninth place in the West, a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns for the last two playoff spots in the conference. It was, by all reasonable metrics, a big moment.
It turns out the circumstances should have been very different. On the possession immediately preceding Curry's shot, Mavericks guard Monta Ellis got to the basket and lofted a short shot around the defending Klay Thompson. Jermaine O'Neal slid over and blocked Ellis's shot — except it was immediately unclear if the play were a goaltending violation or a legitimate swat. Consideration of the play was short-lived, because Curry's winner came without a timeout or stoppage in play.
On Wednesday, the NBA announced Ellis should have been awarded two points. Check out the video above for a look.
Here's the league's statement:
“Upon review at the league office, we have found that a shot taken by Dallas’ Monta Ellis with 16.0 seconds remaining in overtime was on the way down when initially contacted and ruled a block by Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal, and should have been ruled a goaltend. The exact trajectory of the ball when touched was impossible to ascertain with the naked eye, and the play was not reviewable.”
Per NBA rules, the play — which, somewhat embarrassingly, was listed as NBA.com's "Block of the Night" — would have been reviewable if goaltending had been called, because non-calls are not subject to video review. At the same time, video evidence is not entirely conclusive on the play. (Though, again, the excitement of Curry's winner may be subconsciously drowning out some willingness to overturn the call.) Effectively, the safe move would have been to rule the block a goaltending violation and check the video to be sure, except that the clip isn't obvious either way, which means that no referee could have overturned the call. So calling goaltending would have opened up the possibility of a certain result where none actually existed, and we really just would have had a different fan base getting upset about the outcome. Sometimes, even when video claims to provide certainty, there's no way to reach a fair result.
But such philosophical discussions will do nothing to help the Mavericks, who find themselves in a precarious postseason position despite getting a message from the NBA that things really should have gone in their favor. An apology is nice, except for when it does nothing to change a team's chances of playing beyond mid-April. If the Mavs' goal were moral victories, then this announcement would be big. But they're in desperate need of wins that count in the standings, and they lost a major opportunity to get one on Tuesday night.
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