The ending of regulation in game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was one of the most chaotic scenes imaginable.
It featured a dramatic replay review, a crucial missed foul shot, and J.R. Smith somehow not knowing the score when literally everyone in the arena was well aware except him.
There’s a lot to sort through. The league released its “Last Two Minutes Report” to critique the officiating crew. Dave McMenamin of ESPN has an interesting story about it.
The findings of the report might fuel more grievances of Cavs fans who feel particularly robbed by the outcome of this game.
The report determined that Green committed a lane violation during George Hill’s second free throw that was missed.
That was the shot rebounded by Smith who immediately dribbled towards half court assuming the Cavs were ahead and about to claim victory. Under the rules of a lane violation, Hill would have been rewarded with another free throw attempt.
Another potentially consequential error was also found in the report involving Green. This error regarded a foul that wasn’t called.
It was determined that Green should have been whistled for a foul due to holding LeBron James with 12.1 seconds left in this game.
That play happened before James passed the ball to Hill, who was ultimately fouled by Klay Thompson and sent to the line.
The reason this admitted blunder is significant is that the Warriors did not have a foul to give at that time, meaning James would have gone to the free throw line with 12.1 seconds left.
The report also explained that Kevin Durant’s drive to the hoop impeded by James was determined to be a block on James.
The referee crew originally went to the replay to see if James was in the restricted area, which the replay clearly revealed he was not.
Whether James was in legal guarding position was also a reviewable matter, and the replay determined he was not in legal guarding position because he was turning and moving his body into Durant when the contact occurred.
There were numerous basketball fans upset at this call reversal, but charges seem to be an especially subjective call to make.
The report indicating the referees got the call right should put much of that frustration to rest, but the issue of even going to replay in that situation still probably bothers some people.
However, if the ultimate goal of replay is to get the call on the court right, then this frustration seems unwarranted. Had the report indicated that the refs got the call wrong even after the replay review, then that would be a legitimate reason to be dismayed.
Under league rules, the play was a reviewable play, so it’s not entirely clear what the issue is beyond simply not approving of the ultimate outcome of the play reviewed.
In terms of the two violations not called on Green, there’s a lot to be dissected in what they meant to the final outcome.
First of all, it seems unlikely that a lane violation would have been called with 4.7 seconds left in an NBA Finals game.
Lane violations happen pretty frequently, so for the referees to suddenly blow the whistle on one that could have significant ramifications for an NBA Finals game and perhaps eventually the winner of the series seems laughable on its surface.
For the game of this magnitude to be determined by such a commonly-occurring infraction would present a whole new set of problems for the league.
It is also impossible to know whether Hill would have even made the attempt he got to re-do if a lane violation was called.
It was evident in Hill’s eyes that he was incredibly nervous on the free throw line, so it might not even have mattered if he got another attempt. We’ll never know, though.
That brings the discussion to the other missed call on Green involving James being fouled with 12.1 seconds left in regulation. This is the call that presents a wide-ranging hypothetical situation had the refs sent James to the charity stripe.
The Cavs were down by 1 point, and the best player in the world have had a chance to give his team the lead in the waning seconds.
There are four possible options in this hypothetical: James makes them both, James makes the first and misses the second, James misses the first and makes the second, or James misses them both.
12.1 seconds might as well be an eternity in a basketball game like this. There’s a wide array of ways the Warriors could have responded after those two free throws.
If James made them both, the Warriors would have likely held the ball for the last possession and either won or lost the game on a final shot.
If James had missed both, then it obviously would depend on which team grabbed the rebound on that second miss.
If the Warriors grabbed it, then they’d have been immediately fouled by the Cavs and would have shot two free throws on the other end with probably about 10 seconds remaining in the game.
Depending on who was fouled, the Warriors would have then been up by as much as 3 and as little as 1 with the Cavs getting the last possession with 10 seconds remaining.
If the Cavs grabbed that rebound on the second miss, they’d have gained another possession being either down by 1 or tied, depending on if the first free throw went in.
Maybe Smith would have grabbed it again and not known the score, although there’d be more time on the clock for his teammates to knock some sense into him this time.
Clearly, there’s a lot of outcomes that could have happened had James gone to the line, so it’s impossible to know just how much that impacted the final result of this game.
It really comes down to whether from the Cavs perspective, which scenario is more favorable: down by 1 with James shooting 2 free throws with 12.1 seconds left in the game, or down by 1 with Hill shooting 2 free throws with 4.7 seconds left in the game.
James shot 73% on free throws in the regular season and is shooting 74% from the line these playoffs. Hill shot 79% on free throws in the regular season and is shooting 80% from the line in these playoffs.
Hill is the better free throw shooter, but James is a superstar. It makes sense that he’d be more apt to hit clutch shots in such a dire situation.
However, James on the line would have given a dynamic Warriors offense plenty of time to create a solid opportunity for themselves to win the game on the other end.
In hindsight, the Cavs don’t have much to complain about regarding the foul that was actually called out on the court.
A good free throw shooter was sent to the line with just 4.7 seconds left. If Hill made both of those free throws, the chances the Cavs would have held on for the win are overwhelmingly in their favor. Smith making such a gigantic mental lapse only adds to the demoralization the Cavs should feel after that game 1.
They let a great opportunity to steal a game on the road against the huge series favorite slip away. Their loss can’t be blamed on the refs.
If Hill had made that second free throw, this is all a moot issue. If Smith knew the score and put up another shot for the win it might have been a different outcome, too.
The Cavs might dwell on aspects of this referee report, but they need not look further than themselves due to a simple failure to hit a crucial free throw.