GSW-OKC Game 6: The NBA must reform its replay rules for 2016

One specific moment stood out in the final minutes of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals… for the worst reasons.

In the cover photo for this story, you can plainly see Draymond Green whacking Russell Westbrook’s arm, causing the ball to go out of bounds off Westbrook. No foul was called live, so when officials reviewed the play, they were not able to retroactively call a foul on Green, which would have been his sixth. Westbrook would have gained two free throws… but he didn’t shoot them.

Game 6 took a significant turn… all because the NBA’s replay-review policies remain deficient.

It’s almost as important an issue as flagrant fouls: The NBA has to be able to incorporate more flexibility and elasticity into its endgame replay processes. If it’s important enough to have replay in the first place, and if it’s important enough to use replay to catch incidents (such as flagrant fouls) which officials miss in real time, why can’t the league implement reforms which enable referees to call common fouls they miss in real time? That’s the true puzzler in all of this.

Play X can be retroactively called (a flagrant foul), but Play Y (a common foul) cannot. Where is the consistency or the logic in that?

It’s one of many reasons why fans and broadcasters continue to struggle not just with NBA officiating, but with the larger system in which calls are processed, reversed, upheld, and (after the whole game is over) evaluated.

Basketball is a fast-moving game, and there are few players in the league faster than Russell Westbrook. The idea that the refs missed a Game 6 foul call on a Westbrook drive is entirely reasonable. It’s not an appalling miss of a call. This was an open-court situation. Two officials have to be on one side of the court, leaving only one on the other side of the court. If an open-court situation unfolds, such that the foul or action in question occurs on the side of the floor which is visible to only one official and not two, it is very easy to accept that calls will be missed.

If we’re all here to get calls right, and if we have replay technology to serve as an aid to officials, why can’t replay retroactively call fouls, especially those which precede (or cause) out-of-bounds lost balls which are awarded to the other team, the team which fouled in a given sequence?

This stuff has been happening for years. It happened repeatedly in the 2014 playoffs — specifically the Brooklyn Nets’ Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat. It happened in 2015. It happened again Saturday night in Game 6 of Warriors-Thunder.

It is a matter of simple common sense: If refs can call a flagrant after the fact, having missed the call in real time, they certainly should be allowed to call fouls which cause out-of-bounds turnovers or changes of possession.

It’s long past time. Let’s hope the NBA gets this issue fixed in the offseason.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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