It is commonly accepted that there is no tougher call for NBA referees than distinguishing between the block and charge fouls. Players move so quickly and collisions happen so fast that it's very difficult to figure out if the defender was set, or if the offensive player used an improper amount of force, or if one of the players has a particular reputation that makes the call somewhat easier to justify. Sometimes it seems easier to flip a coin.
On Tuesday night, one group of NBA officials decided not to make this difficult decision. A few minutes into the second half of the Sacramento Kings' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, DeMarcus Cousins took a pass on a pick-and-roll play and collided with Kevin Love as he put up a shot. Crew chief Ron Garretson called a blocking foul on Love, but Brent Barnaky whistled Cousins for the charge. They consulted each other and fellow official John Goble, who was on the opposite side of the play. Except, instead of coming to a single ruling, the crew couldn't decide and issued fouls to both Love and Cousins.
To be clear, this ruling is part of the NBA rulebook. As Rob Mahoney notes at The Point Forward, Rule 12, Section VI.f dictates that referees may elect to hand out double fouls with no foul shots and a jump ball at center court in the event that they cannot come to an agreement. In this case, that decision likely made both teams upset — Cousins didn't get to shoot foul shots, Love didn't automatically force a turnover for what the Wolves thought to be good defense, and each team's star got hit with another personal foul. At least Minnesota could take solace in the fact that their Nikola Pekovic beat out Sacramento's Jason Thompson to win the tip.
Oddly enough, the video doesn't make the decision appear to be any more difficult than the dozens of block/charge calls that are ruled on without incident every night. From this vantage, Love appears to be sliding into position under Cousins, although this play also could have been called the other way without causing extraordinary uproar. In real time, the call is unclear, just as most block/charge distinctions are.
In a way, then, this double foul call is more true to the vagaries of NBA refereeing than what usually passes for certain judgment in similar situations. Without the benefit of several replays, it's very hard to know for certain whether a foul should be called as a block or charge. Sometimes, when reaching a decision becomes too difficult, it's more genuine to admit to uncertainty.