There are an infinite number of “what if” questions you can ask about Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.
While Cavaliers fans were largely focusing on J.R. Smith’s huge blunder at the end of regulation that led to the Cavs not getting a final shot off when the game was tied, the team was focusing on the overturned charge call on Kevin Durant with 36.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs were up, 104-102, when Durant drove into the lane on a fast break with Jeff Green guarding him. At that moment, LeBron James moved into Durant’s path and took what was initially called a charge. Yet somehow, unbelievably, the referees chose to exercise a rule that has been rarely used since its inception in the 2012-13 season and reviewed the play.
According to the NBA Official website, referees have the ability to review block/charge calls in the final two minutes of the game if “they are not reasonably certain as to whether the defender was inside or outside of the restricted area.” From that point, the crew can determine whether or not the call itself is valid.
Upon Thursday night’s review, the referees reversed their initial charge call, and instead called James for a blocking foul. Durant headed to the line for two free throws and tied the game.
Speaking with a pool reporter after Game 1, crew chief Ken Mauer confirmed that there was a question among the referees whether or not James was inside the charge circle.
“The reason for the trigger is that we had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area,” Mauer told a pool reporter. “When over at the table, we then are allowed to determine whether or not he was in a legal guarding position. It was determined he was out of the restricted area, but he was not in a legal guarding position prior to Durant’s separate shooting motion. So we had to change it to a blocking foul.”
But it’s still hard to understand their explanation, considering the fact that on TV, there seemed to be no question that James was nowhere near the restricted area.
It’s something that head coach Tyronn Lue lamented during his postgame press conference, saying James was “clearly four feet outside the restricted area.”
“For our team to come out and play their hearts out and compete the way we did, it’s bad,” Lue said. “It’s never been done before where you know he’s outside the restricted, and then you go there and overturn the call and say it’s a block. It’s never been done, ever, in the history of the game. And then tonight in The Finals on the biggest stage, when our team played well, played our ass off, man, it ain’t right. It ain’t right.”
Even Warriors head coach Steve Kerr admitted they “got a break” with the call.
Then there is James, who of course, also disagreed with Mauer’s explanation on the reversal.
“I thought I read that play just as well as I read any play in my career, defensively,” James said. “I seen the drive, I was outside the charge line, I stepped in, took the contact. It’s a huge play. It’s a huge play.”
It was indeed a huge play, and one that James would normally get the benefit of the doubt on late in a game. You can make an argument for a block or charge call either way. But the one thing that’s for certain: James was nowhere near the restricted area, and a review never should have even been triggered as a result.