Think back to the end of Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year and the first thing to come to mind is the legendary J.R. Smith blunder as he dribbled out the clock in a tie game, sending the contest to overtime. The Warriors won that extra session, the Cavaliers were emotionally crushed, and the series was already all but over.
However, after that game in the Cleveland locker room, it was not Smith they were complaining about (mostly), it was a controversial overturn of a charging call on Kevin Durant with :36 seconds left in the game, which upon review was changed to a blocking foul by LeBron James. The Cavaliers thought the referees cost them the game before Smith got his chance to do it.
Saturday’s controversial ending to the 145th Kentucky Derby brought that moment to mind — a video review that changed the outcome on the sport’s biggest stage. At this point you know what happened in the Kentucky Derby: Maximum Security led wire-to-wire but rounding the turn heading into the home stretch he veered sharply out of his lane (his jockey said because he was spooked by crowd noise) and into the path of other horses, impeding them. The race stewards spent a lot of time in front of the video review, ultimately deciding Maximum Security did violate the rules, giving the race to Country House, a 65-1 shot.
It was the first time in Kentucky Derby history that the horse that crossed the finish line first was not declared the winner.
The racing experts can decide if that was the right call — and watching the NBC broadcast, they did not all agree on whether it was or not — but it shows just how much video replay has become a part of sport. And a part of the controversy, part of the post-game debate. Just ask Manchester City about it. Video review of borderline plays is now just one more thing for fans and media members to argue and complain about.
It was for the NBA last June.
If the referees had upheld their original call, it would have been Cavaliers’ ball up two with :36 seconds left, not a guaranteed win but Cleveland would have been in control. Instead, Durant hit two free throws to tie the game. It changed everything.
“I thought I read that play as well as I read any play in my career defensively,” LeBron said of the play. “I seen the drive, I was outside the charge line, stepped in and took the contact. It was huge play. Huge play.”
The officials had to start the review to see if LeBron was inside the restricted area, but once they look at it the referees were allowed to change the call if the block/charge ruling was seen as incorrect. Cleveland’s argument — and it’s a legitimate one — is that there was no question if LeBron was in the restricted area, he clearly was not, so this play should never have been reviewed.
It was. The call was overturned. The NBA’s Last Two Minute report the next day backed the referees’ decision.
The Warriors went on to sweep the Cavaliers — Golden State would have won the series whatever that call — and that, combined the blunder of J.R. Smith, relegated the controversial review call to the back burner. Maybe it shouldn’t.
But just wait, another review controversy will come along soon enough in the NBA to bring that debate back to the front burner.