The play was set, and Damian Lillard executed it to perfection. Coming off a timeout, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts set up a high screen for him to exploit any way he chose, and he chose right. With Caleb Swanigan in the way, the Jazz’s Joe Ingles — not fleet of foot to begin with — was toast. It was Dame Time, and he showed it with a quick drive to the hoop that even the 18,306 fans at the Vivint Smart Home Arena figured to be a sure bucket. It didn’t matter that Rudy Gobert got a hand on his layin and prevented it from going through the hoop. It hit glass first, rendering the block illegal and netting him two points to tie the game.
There was just one problem, however: Not a single one of the officials saw the violation. Gobert’s rejection was thus deemed legitimate and, because it drew no whistle, not subject to review. The Blazers were, needless to say, livid. They felt they were robbed of a tie, and, in light of Lillard’s match-long heroics, their sixth win in seven outings. Instead, the Jazz would go on to claim victory, snapping a five-contest losing skein. And so incensed were they that they continued to rant long after the final buzzer. The threat of fines notwithstanding, they were vocal in their protestations. Lillard, Stotts, and CJ McCollum minced no words taking the referees to task.
To be fair, the men in gray did own up to the mistake. Crew chief Josh Tiven admitted that “we missed the play” after going through the standard post mortem. The National Basketball Association’s Last Two Minute Report was likewise clear, deeming it an “Incorrect Non-Call.” Significantly, it likewise underscored the limitations of the current review process. “Goaltending is only a reviewable matter when it is whistled on the floor by officials,” it noted. Argued Lillard, “three referees out there, and they don’t call that. I don’t wanna see no report about, ‘Oh, we should’ve called it’ or none of that. They cost us the game. We in a playoff race, and they cost us the game on an easy call.”
Significantly, the evident goaltend, even on real time, wasn’t the only thing that escaped the arbiters’ eyes. For some reason, the game clock stopped at 1:43 after Royce O’Neal made a trey to push the Jazz’s advantage to five. Not a single tick in the ensuing 12 seconds the Blazers used up to get Swanigan a 12-foot jumper was then officially reflected. Today, league records will show a difference of a single second between the two scores. And, tellingly, there is no mention of it in the Last Two Minute Report.
If there’s anything the Blazers-Jazz tiff proved, it’s that the league’s Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey should be given greater leeway. The system was set up to uphold the integrity of proceedings, not place them under even bigger clouds of doubt. It can’t be the cause of letting a wrong stand, or — as in the case of the Christmas Day contest between the Lakers and Clippers — turning a right into a wrong. And unless and until the Competition Committee finds the proper fixes, Lillard and Company won’t be the last to complain with reason.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.