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Monday, June 14, 2010
Ray Allen and Whether Shots Hitting the Rim Should be Reviewed by Instant Replay

Watching the Celtics-Lakers game last night, the topic of instant replay came up. Some background: NBA referees can use instant replay in certain situations, as detailed here:

The NBA instituted instant replay before the start of the 2002-03 season, originally to review period-ending baskets and fouls, and a number of triggers have since been added.

Replay is used for officials to confirm a flagrant foul warranted an ejection, or that players left the bench during an altercation. Referees can now go to the monitor to see if shots or fouls came beyond the 3-point arc, whether they beat the shot clock, or if there was a clock malfunction.

The system was expanded this season to out of bounds possessions in the 2 minutes of regulation or overtime.

Replay wasn't available for a crucial play last night. With 1:05 left to play and the Celtics up 87-82, Ray Allen shot what appeared to be an air ball as the shot clock was about to expire. After Celtics' center Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, the whistle was blown and it looked like the Lakers -- who seemed to have the momentum at that point -- would get the ball back.

Instead, the refs huddled together and determined, without instant replay but with plenty of advocacy from the Celtics and Lakers' respective benches and perhaps the Boston crowd, that the ball actually glanced the rim. The Celtics got the ball back with a fresh 24 seconds on the shot clock and would go on to win the game.

While it's not clear what would have happened had the Lakers gotten the ball back, there seems to be a real possibility that they would have won the game. Kobe was completely dominant in the second half, despite pretty tight defense by Tony Allen, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and anyone else the Celtics tried in vain to stop him. From the Lakers' perspective, going back to LA with a 3-2 advantage in the series would seem completely different from going back down 2-3. The call on whether the ball hit the rim, in other words, may have changed the outcome of the series.

One of the difficulties of adopting instant replay is figuring out when it should be used and when it shouldn't, and how to justify the lines of demarcation. If instant replay is allowable for determining whether someone got a shot off before the 24 second clock expired -- which it is under NBA rules -- why isn't it okay to use it to see if a ball hit the rim?


It was nearly an airball, but the second angle in the youtube clip clearly shows that the ball grazed the rim and changed trajectory. So they made the right call.

Blogger Dave Spiegel -- 6/14/2010 10:45 PM  

dave is being wishful. one of the angles shows daylight between the ball and rim at all times

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/14/2010 11:23 PM  

Are you serious? The rotation and trajectory both obviously changed.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 1:33 AM  

did it change when it hit the rim, or change when it hit the foam bottom of the backboard?

i think that's an airball

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 2:08 AM  

clearly not an airball, the ball changes it's rotation twice, once after glancing the rim, and another after hitting the backboard.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 9:37 AM  

Laker fans will deny the rotation changes but the ball barely grazed the rim. Tough call for the refs to make; I'm surprised they got it right, frankly.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 11:17 AM  

The replay from straight on shows the change in trajectory, the others don't. It was a good call that i didn't notice until watching the game the next day. Live, I thought it was a bad call.

Blogger yuckabuck -- 6/15/2010 11:56 AM  

Thanks to everyone who responded for confirming what I have long said: Video is not conclusive and does not resolve most discussions. What one sees in the video is subject to the same acts of interpretation and perception and perspective (different angles show different things) as everything else.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 6/15/2010 1:22 PM  

Without replay that is a difficult call. With replay? Lakers fans should not even try to kid themselves, it's absolutely obvious that it hit the rim.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 1:36 PM  

It hit the rim.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/15/2010 4:41 PM  

The reason NBA replay rules work the way they do is that instant replay can only be used when the game is stopped. Thus (except for 3-point field goals) only calls stopping the game are reviewed, not decisions to not stop the game. The 3-pt field goal is treated exceptionally since adding and removing points from the score can be done later.

For example, once the ball goes out of bounds the game stops and the referees can use TV to see who touched it last. On the other hand, an airball/rebound decision does not necessarily stop the play -- if the call is "rebound" then play continues; once play tops it is possible in theory to review the call and then "backtrack" and restart the game from the point of the bad call, but this is not the NBA's philosophy for review.

This game-stopping issue creates a bias, by the way, since only positive decision to blow the whistle are reviewable (these stop the game), while non-calls aren't (play continues).

In my opinion this is why instant replay is natural in American football (where the game stops anyway after every play) and is so awkward in basketball and football.

Separately, I think that TV review of calls is fundamentally bad in all sports since it makes referee calls provisional. I think fans should accept the fact that referees are human and make mistakes and let the game go on. Yes, sometimes your team will get "robbed", and sometimes your team will win "undeservedly", but the game is more fun when it is won on the court than when it is won in some platonic sense by looking at an instant replay from six angles.

Blogger Lior -- 6/15/2010 8:23 PM  

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