Despite admitting blown call, NBA denies Nuggets' protest over loss to Grizzlies

Ball Don't Lie
Nuggets coach Michael Malone just wants everyone to slow down and take another look. (AP)
Nuggets coach Michael Malone just wants everyone to slow down and take another look. (AP)

The NBA will admit its mistake, Denver Nuggets, and is sorry for your troubles. But not that sorry.

Two weeks ago, the Nuggets filed an official protest with the NBA over their one-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 8, in response to the league acknowledging in its Last Two Minutes post-mortem report that both the referees on-site and the replay officials at the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J., made an incorrect call that played a major role in the unfolding of the game’s final play. On Wednesday night, the NBA issued its official ruling, denying the protest and upholding Memphis’ victory.

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The play in question began when the Nuggets had the ball and a one-point lead with 4.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter:

Denver’s Mike Miller attempted to inbound the ball to teammate Nikola Jokic, but his pass was too high, going off Jokic’s fingertips and eventually getting corralled by Mike Conley. The Grizzlies point guard dribbled into the frontcourt, looking for a transition layup that would give his team the lead, but he lost the ball out of bounds under the basket with less than one second remaining.

The refs called the ball out on Denver on the floor, believing Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay had touched the ball after Conley lost it. The decision then went to Secaucus, where replay officials reviewed the angles and evidence available to them and confirmed the call, giving Memphis back the ball on the baseline under the basket, down by one, with 0.7 seconds remaining.

And then:

That thrilling inbounds lob hook-up between passer Vince Carter and finisher Marc Gasol gave Memphis the win, and left the Nuggets — especially Mudiay, who insisted he never touched the ball after Conley lost it — feeling jobbed. The league validated that feeling when it released the Last Two Minutes report breakdown of Nuggets-Grizzlies:

Angles reviewed in the Replay Center appeared to show Mudiay (DEN) touch the ball prior to it going out of bounds. The call on the floor was therefore confirmed as MEM possession. However, upon review of an additional angle postgame, it was determined that Mudiay did not touch the ball and possession should have been awarded to DEN.

Which is to say: upon further review, the Grizzlies shouldn’t have had the ball with 0.7 seconds left and a chance to go for the win, but they did. The Nuggets should have had the chance to winnow off one last fraction of a second to head home with a win, but they didn’t.

There were other missed calls listed in the L2M report that benefited the Nuggets — namely, two separate uncalled violations on Mudiay and Gary Harris on a play several seconds earlier that Denver turned into two points to take the lead — but this one specifically impacted the circumstances that resulted in a game-winning (and game-losing) play. Getting the after-the-fact mea culpa from the league only angered the Nuggets further, and made them consider taking action.

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Here’s Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on the matter, from Evan Fiala of Denver Stiffs:

“The replay center failed us. We lost a game, and granted, we did a lot of things during that game that did not help us win. But when it comes down to a review by the replay center to determine whose ball it is, and the ball is awarded to Memphis when it should have been awarded to us, and they therefore take advantage of the situation to score, that’s a very tough pill to swallow.

“Obviously we’re looking at every and any way to see what our options are moving forward, to see if there’s any way to change the outcome of the game, to replay the final 0.7 seconds of the game, whatever it may be. Certain calls are not reviewable … but out of bounds and possession is one of the things they spend a lot of time on at our head coaches meetings and GMs meetings, talking about how effective and great the replay center is. Well, it wasn’t that great the other night, and I feel bad for our guys because we did enough to win that game, and we didn’t because of an error made in Secaucus.”

After considering their options, the Nuggets decided to lodge a formal protest with the league. From a statement by team president Josh Kroenke:

Last night, Coach Malone notified [Nuggets general manager] Tim Connolly and myself that the NBA officiating report acknowledged an incorrect call in our November 8th contest against the Memphis Grizzlies with 0.7 seconds remaining in the game and the Nuggets ahead 107-106. The ruling on the floor and subsequent video review resulted in Memphis incorrectly being awarded possession and scoring a game-winning basket on the final play.

There are numerous plays over the course of a game that impact the eventual outcome, including some incorrect foul call and judgment calls that affect each team throughout. Officiating a professional game in any sport is an incredibly difficult and highly scrutinized job, and we feel the NBA undoubtedly has the best basketball officials in the world.

Commissioner [Adam] Silver has done a fantastic job championing league transparency and accuracy for teams and fans alike with the addition of in-game video review and the NBA’s Instant Replay Center. However, in this case, a reviewable non-judgment call regarding possession was not sufficiently reviewed, and considering the time and score, we feel as if the incorrect ruling had a direct impact on the final outcome of the game.

Despite the league admitting both an error on the part of the on-site officials and an insufficient remedy from the replay center, though, the NBA on Wednesday announced that the Nuggets’ protest had been denied. Here’s how the league explained its ruling (emphasis mine):

The league found that the Replay Center official confirmed the call made by the on-court officials after reviewing two angles of the play that appeared to show Mudiay touching the ball. In light of those angles, and in order not to further delay the game, the Replay Center official did not select additional angles of the play to review. Following the game, one of those angles made clear that Mudiay did not in fact touch the ball and that possession should have been awarded to Denver.

The league determined that while the out-of-bounds call was incorrect, it was an error in judgment by the Replay Center official and not a misapplication of the playing rules — which is required under league rules to justify the extraordinary remedy of granting a game protest and overturning the game’s result.

The league will review this matter from an operational standpoint to consider further improvements to the review process in order to reduce the likelihood of a similar error going forward.

The NBA has not upheld a protest since January 2008, when the Miami Heat raised a red flag over a critical error late in a game against the Atlanta Hawks:

The Heat protested the game because, with 51.9 seconds remaining in overtime, the Hawks’ scoring table personnel incorrectly disqualified the Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal – asserting that a foul committed by O’Neal was his sixth foul of the game, when in fact it was only his fifth. The error occurred because the Hawks’ Official Scorer mistakenly attributed to O’Neal a foul at 3:24 remaining in the fourth period that was actually called against the Heat’s Udonis Haslem.

NBA Commissioner David Stern found that the Hawks were grossly negligent in committing this scoring error, since they failed to follow league-mandated scoring procedures and failed to respond effectively when the members of the statisticians’ crew noticed the mistake. Because of this conduct by Atlanta’s personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as O’Neal – the Heat’s second leading scorer and rebounder that night – was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining. Under this unprecedented set of circumstances, the Commissioner granted the Heat’s protest, and fined the Hawks $50,000 for their violation of league rules.

In that case, the league ruled that the Heat and Hawks would replay the final 51.9 seconds of overtime before their next meeting, which came on March 8, 2008 … after Shaq had been traded to the Phoenix Suns for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. The Hawks held on for a 114-111 win.

Since the Nuggets called foul on the Replay Center, a second team has raised an objection over a similar late-game snafu. The Toronto Raptors on Friday filed a protest over their 102-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, stemming from what they believe to be a game-changing error made during the video review of a potential overtime-forcing 3-point shot in the closing seconds. The NBA will now have five business days to rule on the merits of the Raptors’ case.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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