NBA instant replay: Do we need more of it? A PBT roundtable discussion

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Garnett_referee.jpgThe star of the NBA finals Game 3 — just after Derek Fisher but ahead of Brian Scalabrine — was instant replay. The officials went to it constantly down the stretch of a close game. Good, because they got the calls right, sort of; or bad because it disrupted the flow of the game?

We’ve decided to go Algonquin Round Table to hash this one out. Myself, Matt Moore (the PBT weekend editor and a guy who is everywhere) and Rob Mahoney (also here and everywhere) discuss.

Kurt Helin: It looked like an NFL game out there late in Game 3. I was expecting Doc Rivers to throw the red flag on the court at one point. No doubt it messes with the flow of the game some, but this proved to me I want more replay. Lets get the calls right.

I say give the coaches two challenges to use per game outside of the last two minutes, and have the refs overturn some more stuff. What matters is getting it right. This isn’t baseball.

Matt Moore: I suppose if we’re going to go that route we’re going to have to make one expansion with a limitation. You can challenge the overall result of the play, not just a specific element, and it’s got to be done at a stopped ball, no more than one possession removed from the play in question.

An example? Doc challenging out on Rondo shouldn’t negate the fact that Rondo was fouled. The question then is if you attribute the foul to him. We’re getting in murky water there, though. A retroactive foul is such a huge deal because so many go on that aren’t called (a zillion in an average Boston game and a googleplex whenever Andrew Bynum enters the arena).

My big thing is, man, we’ve got to do better about getting the call right the first time. Four blatant misses down the stretch. This after I thought Games 1 and 2 weren’t so bad.

Rob Mahoney: The league could definitely use more replay, but how is ‘challeng[ing] the overall result of the play’ a limitation? That’s opening up a huge can of worms, in my opinion, and you cut right to the heart of it, Moore.

Why should the challenging team really be penalized with an additional foul that wasn’t called by the referees in the first place?

As you mentioned, Matt, there are fouls going on during every possession, from holds, to hand-checks, to the pleasantries exchanged by players fighting for post position. A referee, if so inclined, could choose to end every single replay review by calling a foul that wasn’t seen the first time around, and that’s game-changing in the worst way. Circumventing that requires the challenging of specific calls. It has to be “this out of bounds call needs to be reviewed,” or “this blocking foul needs to be reviewed, it was a charge.” It’s not so easy to do that in every circumstance, but giving referees a remote control and free rein to revisit all of the calls they didn’t make could be damning.

Where that line should be though, I’m not sure. Should foul calls even be reviewable? Or maybe only those that are actually called, rather than challenging a no-call? Technical fouls? Violations only? I’m not sure there’s a good answer.

Kurt Helin: I don’t think you can open up the Pandora’s Box of foul’s that were not called the first time. Even though you end up with plays like that out of bounds off Lamar Odom where it went out off him because of an uncalled foul on Rondo. That is the price. But there have to be definitive lines of what can and can’t be reviewed. Charge/block is too subjective.

But what about a standard shooting foul? If Ray Allen goes up for a three and Derek Fisher is late closing out on him and is called for a foul, can you review if he did get him? To me that kind of thing can’t be part of it, because it can be about camera angles, or how do you determine how much body contact there was? Especially with a foul in a scrum under the basket. So many foul calls are made in the shades of gray.

Moore is hits the nail with getting calls right the first time, and with that comes the old consistency argument. From ref to ref in the same game what is a foul on one end is not on the other. Touch fouls get called, guys knocked down and no whistle. Was there a clear line in Game 3 of what was and was not a foul? Paul Pierce sure couldn’t find it.

Matt Moore: I think perhaps one way to solve it is this. If after review, a conflicting piece of evidence in the play would negate the reversal, the play stands as called. So basically, last night, Rondo’s foul negates the incorrect call on the out of bounds, because given all the information, there is inconclusive evidence to overturn the call. Rondo doesn’t benefit from the foul, and Lamar doesn’t get screwed.

Reviewing the contact would be interesting, but that’s one where I’d almost say you can only challenge ONE foul call per game. That would make it interesting. If you save it, and you KNOW your guy didn’t foul, you could challenge. Also makes you wonder if you could challenge that you DID foul, re: Denver-Dallas last year with Antoine Wright.

I still think if we’re talking individual plays, we’re not falling victim to any specific problems more than the NFL. So while there could be a blatant foul going on off-ball. I’d recommend that only on-ball action can be reviewed.

Rob Mahoney: The one thing I think we’re ignoring is how such reviews affect the game’s natural momentum. That matters in terms of how we view the game, but even more importantly, how the game progresses.

Would challenges require the use of a timeout? Last night we saw a Doc Rivers timeout turn into a review that benefited the Lakers, which is an interesting twist. I think requiring teams to use timeouts to challenge plays would at least limit the disruptions in the flow of the game, both in terms of the viewing experience and each team’s ability to halt the other’s momentum. Otherwise, being able to challenge at any dead-ball situation could be a powerful weapon in the hands of any team, especially those on the road.

Can you imagine if a team could not only stop play during an opponent’s big run, but also overturn a call that could act as a catalyst for their own? That’s huge. There needs to be some kind of cost for teams to force reviews, should they be unsuccessful, and timeouts could be the best way to go.  

Kurt Helin: What would concern me is what we saw for a while in the NFL — gun shy refs. They seemed hesitant because of the potential overrule. NBA refs have enough problems without starting to second-guess themselves on top of it.

For that reason, got to just keep this limited — two (Matt says one, I could live with that) challenges outside the last two minutes of the half, and only challenge on certain specific calls. Only on-the-ball fouls.

Cool, now that the three of us solved the replay issue, let’s just fix the CBA….

LeBron James locked in for Cavaliers-Celtics Game 4 after being locked out in Game 3

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James had that look – faraway, yet focused.

The Boston Celtics have his undivided attention.

Following one of the worst postseason games of his career, James provided a candid review of his performance after breaking down film of Game 3 in the Eastern Conference finals.

“It wasn’t tough to watch,” he said as the Cavaliers prepared for Tuesday night’s Game 4. “We had opportunities. It is what it is. They played a hell of a game and they took it to us and we weren’t able to stop the runs that they made.

“Some of the plays that we made, some of the plays that I made, I was like, `What are we doing?’ or `What could I have done better?’ But you figure out the next game and go forward.”

James scored just 11 points and committed six turnovers in Game 2 on Sunday night, when the Celtics overcame a 21-point deficit in the third quarter to pull off an upset the odds makers in Las Vegas said was the biggest in the NBA playoffs over the past 20 years.

It was the fourth-lowest point total for James in 210 career playoff games. The point total was stunning considering it broke James’ streak of scoring at least 30 points in eight straight playoff games. It was the first time in 11 games in this postseason in which he scored fewer than 25.

Typically, James bounces back following poor games.

“It’s fun to watch knowing that when he has bad nights, a lot of times some very, very, very good nights follow,” said Cavs forward James Jones, who has been James’ teammate the past seven years. “It’s what he does.”

James went just 4 of 13 from the field in Game 3. More unusual was that he didn’t attack the basket with his customary tenacity.

And while James was criticized in some circles for not doing more, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was understandably cautious in his analysis.

His team is back in the series after being blown out in Games 1 and 2 at home, and Stevens probably didn’t want to rankle James.

“I thought LeBron made a lot of the right plays,” he said. “When you’ve got guys that are all on fire the way they are, the right basketball play is to find them. He just made it over and over. The guy is a tremendous basketball player. He makes the right play over and over, and he thinks the game, he sees the game. He’s a really good defender. He can read situations. So I thought he was pretty darned good. I’m not going to be critical of the best player in the world.”

James, who didn’t speak to the media Monday, didn’t provide many detailed answers during a brief interview session at the team’s practice facility.

Asked for the keys to Game 4, he simply said “win” and walked away.

Report: Magic hiring Bucks GM John Hammond to serve under Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Bucks general manager John Hammond interviewed to run the Magic’s front office – a job that ultimately went to Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman.

But there’s still room for Hammond in Orlando.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Why would Hammond leave Milwaukee, where he held the highest title in the front office for the No. 2 job in Orlando? The Bucks seemed ready to part ways for a while. Coach Jason Kidd assumed plenty of player-personnel control, and Milwaukee hired Justin Zanik to work under and eventually succeed Hammond.

Hammond’s move elevates Zanik now with the Bucks. We’ll see whether he or Kidd actually steers the ship.

Hammond had Kidd thrust upon him in Milwaukee due to the coach’s closeness with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Considering he worked with Weltman in Detroit and Milwaukee, Hammond should have better working relationships in Orlando.

Under Hammond, the Bucks have built a nice young core featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, Greg Monroe, Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. Hammond probably deserves more credit for that, but Milwaukee’s loss is the Magic’s gain. At least Zanik is qualified to step up.

Now, Orlando must hope Hammond can help turn around its underwhelming roster.

Kawhi Leonard injury an all-time "what if?"

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Eight days ago, we didn’t know whether Kawhi Leonard – who injured his ankle when Zaza Pachulia slid under his jumper – would play again this postseason.

But as a frustrated Gregg Popovich ranted about Pachulia’s dirtiness, I suspect the Spurs coach knew. I think Popovich knew, after years of anticipating a playoff matchup with the high-octane Warriors, Leonard’s injury had robbed San Antonio of a competitive conference finals – and maybe a championship.

The Spurs led Game 1 by 23 when Leonard got hurt. He never returned, and San Antonio blew its opening-game lead then lost Games 2-4 by 36, 12 and 14. None of the final three games were competitive down the stretch.

In all, the Spurs outscored Golden State by 21 in Leonard’s 23 minutes and got outscored by 85 otherwise.

The Warriors advance to their third straight NBA Finals. San Antonio is left wondering, what if?

Popovich’s Spurs have beaten nearly every highly touted team to come along during his reign as coach – the Chris Webber/Vlade Divac/Mike Bibby/Peja Stojakovic Kings, Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Goin’ To Work Pistons, Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni Suns, LeBron James Cavaliers, Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks, Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook Thunder, LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh Heat.

But these Warriors escaped San Antonio. The Spurs beat Golden State in the 2013 second round, but that wasn’t the same team. Those Warriors hadn’t started Draymond Green, signed Andre Iguodala or hired Steve Kerr – three people integral to Golden State’s identity. And of course, the Warriors hadn’t signed Kevin Durant, who turned this year’s squad into possible the greatest super team of all time.

At the same time, San Antonio was loading up. The Spurs were the second-best regular-season team over the last three years behind Golden State, but the teams didn’t meet in the playoffs.

Despite having the NBA’s third-best net rating, San Antonio had to face the Clippers (NBA’s second-best net rating) in the 2015 first round thanks to conference imbalance and a since-changed seeding system for division winners. The Clippers won a hard-fought seven-game series.

In 2016, the Spurs had an even higher net rating than Golden State, which went 73-9. But they ran into the Thunder, whose athleticism buzz-sawed them and nearly toppled the Warriors.

This year was San Antonio’s chance.

The Spurs showed an ability to adjust to spread attacks while topping the Rockets in the second round. In its next-level challenge, San Antonio – behind Leonard’s 26 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds and three assists – dominated early.

But as soon as Leonard went down, the entire series turned.

The Spurs outscored Golden State by 42 points per 48 minutes with Leonard and got outscored by 24 points per 48 minutes without him – one of the greatest disparities in a playoff series this era.

Here are all the series where a team performed at least 60 points better per 48 minutes with a certain player on the court rather than off since 2001, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference records go (requiring more than 10 minutes played, as to eliminate extreme garbage-time examples):

  • Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player off
  • Right: Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player on
  • Center: Difference

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Raw totals:

Player On Off
Chauncey Billups (2002 MIN 0, DAL 3) 0 in 134 min. -32 in 10 min.
Draymond Green (2015 GSW 4, NOP 0) +77 in 166 min. -45 in 31 min.
Gilbert Arenas (2005 WAS 4, CHI 2) +31 in 276 min. -20 in 12 min.
Pascal Siakam (2017 TOR 0, CLE 4) +14 in 10 min. -75 in 182 min.
Kobe Bryant (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +66 in 119 min. -22 in 26 min.
Kevin Garnett (2004 MIN 4, DEN 1) +58 in 206 min. -38 in 34 min.
Luke Jackson (2007 TOR 2, BRK 4) +14 in 11 min. -46 in 277 min.
LeBron James (2007 CLE 4, WAS 0) +47 in 182 min. -12 in 11 min.
Allen Iverson (2001 PHI 1, LAL 4) -25 in 239 min. -9 in 6 min.
Kawhi Leonard (2017 SAS 0, GSW 4) +21 in 24 min. -85 in 168 min.
Shawn Marion (2003 PHO 2, SAS 4) -17 in 283 min. -15 in 10 min.
Tariq Abdul-Wahad (2003 DAL 2, SAS 4) +19 in 16 min. -49 in 272 min.
Russell Westbrook (2017 OKC 1, HOU 4) +15 in 195 min. -58 in 46 min.
Shaquille O’Neal (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +55 in 131 min. -11 in 13 min.
Chris Webber (2001 SAC 3, PHO 1) +59 in 169 min. -21 in 23 min.
Tim Duncan (2001 SAS 4, DAL 1) +89 in 202 min. -31 in 38 min.
Kirk Hinrich (2016 ATL 0, CLE 4) +11 in 12 min. -61 in 180 min.
Thomas Gardner (2009 ATL 0, CLE 4) +12 in 16 min. -84 in 177 min.

This list is essentially divided into three groups:

  • Bench-warmers who played a few good minutes while their team got torched throughout the series. Pascal Siakam, Luke Jackson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Kirk Hinrich and Thomas Gardner fit this category.
  • Stars who dominated while on the court and saw their teams torched when they sat. For example, in the massive leader in this stat, the Timberwolves played the Mavericks even in the 2002 first round with Chauncey Billups on the court. But Minnesota got outscored by 32 in the 10 minutes Billups sat the entire series and got swept. (Billups was starting for an injured Terrell Brandon, so Robert Pack got pressed into duty behind Billups.)
  • Kawhi Leonard. Every other star played a high majority of his teams’ minutes, essentially as much as he could handle. Then, his team just hoped to hang on in the star’s brief breathers. Leonard was stuck on the bench nearly the entire series, watching the the Spurs look helpless after he led them to a commanding advantage.

To be fair, San Antonio wouldn’t have necessarily won with Leonard.

Golden State was better than the Spurs throughout the season, and the lopsided start was a small sample. Simple regression to the mean could have tilted the series.

Also, the Warriors are at their best with Draymond Green at center, and they used that lineup just 11 seconds before Leonard’s injury. In 59 minutes with Green at center in the series, Golden State posted offensive/defensive/net ratings of 123.9/90.3/+33.5. If they needed to lean on those lineups more to beat a Leonard-led Spurs, they could have.

Yet, I can’t stop wondering what would have happened if Leonard stayed healthy.

The question towers over the last great playoff-injury fascination – whether the Cavaliers would have won the 2015 Finals if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were healthy.

I contend no. The Warriors were better than Cleveland overall each of the last two years, and they were a stylistic problem for the Cavs – especially Love and especially in 2015. The Cavaliers winning in 2016 adds doubt, but Stephen Curry was hobbled and Draymond Green got suspended for a game. A hungrier and more available 2015 Golden State team was more primed to win than the 2016 edition that lost to Cleveland.

Perhaps, a 2017 Finals rubber match will inform my opinion how Love’s and Irving’s injuries affected the 2015 NBA championship. For now, I’m sticking with the Warriors winning anyway.

But with Leonard’s injury in this year’s conference finals, I just don’t have a feel for whether the Spurs would have prevailed.

And that’s the most frustrating part.

Kevin Durant apologizes for telling fans ‘If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,’ reiterates stance

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Kevin Durant told fans, dismayed by the lack of competitive games and series this postseason, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

Daring customers to choose another form of entertainment might not be good business for the NBA, but it’s not as if many fans needed an invitation. I doubt anyone was on the fence about watching then made up their minds after hearing Durant’s comments.

Yet, the Warriors star offered an apology.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I mean, life can be simple, man, Durant told ESPN. “If you don’t like the way the game is going, just turn it off. If you’re enjoying it, just keep it on. Life is simple. I didn’t mean it to disrespect anybody, but if you felt disrespected, I’m sorry. But if you don’t enjoy the game, turn it off [and] turn something else on. If you do, enjoy the rest of it, man.”

This is just a softer touch on the same sentiment – and just as reasonable.

People who love the NBA will watch. People who hate the NBA won’t. And people in the middle will fluctuate depending on the quality of the product.

Anyone mad at Durant the first time was just looking for a reason to get upset. That group will probably find a source of irritation in the follow-up quote, too.

The rest of us didn’t need this (half-hearted) apology, anyway.