By Ben Golliver
The NBA announced Thursday that its referees missed a foul call on a controversial play that resulted in Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant suffering a sprained ankle while being defended by Hawks guard Dahntay Jones on Wednesday night.
With 4.9 seconds remaining in the Atlanta Hawks' 96-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant attempted a jump shot over the Hawks' Dahntay Jones. After review at the league office, video replay confirmed that referees missed a foul call on Jones as he challenged Bryant's shot and did not give him the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor. Bryant should have been granted two free throws.
The NBA's ruling doesn't impact the result of Wednesday night's game and it doesn't carry with it any punishment for Jones, but it does offer a measure of vindication for Bryant, who is out "indefinitely" with a "severely" sprained left ankle. He was adamant that Jones should have been called for a foul on the play for sliding underneath him after the shot attempt.
“Dangerous play that should have been called,” he wrote. “Period.”
Jones disputed that assessment on his Twitter account.
“Tape doesn’t lie,” he wrote. “Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man. … Leg kick that makes contact with a defensive player is an [offensive] foul. Period. The NBA changed that rule [two years] ago. Stop it!”
Here's The Point Forward's full breakdown of the play and the debate. All things considered, this is a mildly surprising ruling, as Jones looked to be playing natural defense with the intent of doing his job and not injuring Bryant. Similar situations occur on a regular basis, without resulting in injury, and fouls in these situations are rarely called during game action and even more rarely noted after the fact in this manner. Had Jones' right foot been positioned a few inches to the left, or had Bryant taking a different jumping angle, the Lakers guard would have had the opportunity to land cleanly.
Chalking this up to a bad break at a terrible time for the Lakers apparently wasn't sufficient for the league office, which deserves credit for giving the play the closest possible examination considering the massive level of scrutiny involved. The ruling doesn't change anything, and it doesn't help Bryant get back to the court, but perhaps it does re-open the conversation about protecting shooters' ankles, something everyone should welcome. "I've cried foul play enough," Bryant tweeted on Thursday afternoon, indicating his desire to move on from the episode. "Big boy pants time for me."