NBA upholds referees' controversial call in Thunder's Game 5 win over Clippers
The NBA has upheld a controversial ruling by its officials that led Clippers coach Doc Rivers to launch into an extended rant following Los Angeles' 105-104 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 5 on Tuesday.
Rivers was incensed by the referees' decision to grant Oklahoma City possession after an out-of-bounds call with 11.3 seconds to play and the Clippers leading 104-102. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson was driving to the basket when Clippers forward Matt Barnes swiped at the ball.
Replays appeared to indicate that Barnes fouled Jackson and that Jackson was the last player to touch the ball. The referees, who were unable to review whether there was a foul due to league rules, took a look at the play and determined that Barnes had touched the ball last. In Rivers' opinion, the officials came to that decision as a make-up call because they could not retroactively assess a foul on Barnes.
However, the NBA league office reviewed the sequence and determined there wasn't sufficient evidence to overrule the original call, which had been that the ball was off of Barnes.
“With 11.3 seconds left in the game, the basketball went out of bounds on the baseline and the referees ruled the ball belonged to the Thunder," NBA president of basketball operation Rod Thorn said in a statement. "The referees then used instant replay to review the play. In order to reverse the call made on the court, there has to be ‘clear and conclusive’ evidence. Since no replay provided such evidence, the play correctly stood as called with the Thunder retaining possession.”
The league's final ruling matched a post-game statement issued by referee Tony Brothers.
"When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City," Brothers' statement read. "We go review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it's inconclusive we have to go with the call that was on the floor."
Rivers and his players memorably disagreed with that interpretation.
"Everybody knows it was our ball," Rivers told reporters afterwards. "The bottom line is that they thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let's take away replay. Let's take away the replay system. That was our ball, we win the game. We got robbed because of that call. It's clear, everybody in the arena saw it. That's why everybody was shocked when they said Oklahoma City. That was our ball. Whether it was a foul or not -- it was -- but they didn't call it."
Speaking for more than nine minutes -- significantly longer than the average post-game press conference -- Rivers returned time and time again to the disputed call.
"We did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves," he admitted. "But at the end of the day, we have a replay system that you're supposed to look at. I don't want to hear that they didn't have that replay. That's a bunch of crap. ... That's a bunch of crap, and y'all know it. ... We made a comedy of errors. Having said that, we still have the right to win the game if the [call] says it's our ball. That's too bad. ... That could be a series-defining call. And that's not right."
Rivers told reporters that he was so sure the ball would go to the Clippers that he was already drawing up an inbounds play before they made the official ruling. He then suggested that even the TNT broadcasting crew believed the officials -- Tony Brothers, Bennett Salvatore and Tom Washington -- had made the wrong decision.
"Steve Kerr and them were over there shaking their head, everybody saw it," Rivers said. "My thinking was, 'I was pissed.' I don't think that's working the officials. That's being honest with the officials. I love them, I think all three of those officials are terrific officials. On that call, they got it wrong. That's a game-defining and possibly a series-defining call. And that ain't right.
"Everybody in the arena, everybody on TV saw it. It was so clear that I went and grabbed a clipboard to draw up a side out of bounds [play] to get the ball in. ... What can you do? ... Our officials don't do anything on purpose, they don't cheat or anything like that. They made a horrendous call. ... Get it right. That's the only answer. Sometimes its hard, where it can go either way. Then, what can you do? When it's that clear, the answer is [to] get it right. ... That one wasn't hard, but what can you do?"
On multiple previous occasions during the playoffs, the NBA league office has issued a memo acknowledging a game-deciding incorrect call after the fact. During the Clippers' first-round series with the Warriors, the NBA admitted that its officials missed a foul call against Golden State.
"I don't need it," Rivers said, when asked if he expected to see a league office statement. "I'll release the memo. They. Blew. The. Call. That's the memo."
Multiple Clippers players turned to social media to protest the call following the game. Barnes posted a picture of the sequence to his Instagram alongside the caption: "There's no question this went off my hand last right? #--- outahere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"Follow
In response to a Twitter post by former NBA executive Stu Jackson that cited an obscure rulebook passage that could have justified the call, Clippers forward Jared Dudley wrote: "Are you serious?!!! [Shake my head] Blind."
Oklahoma City now holds a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is set for Los Angeles on Thursday.