Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, with eight and a half seconds left and his Bucks trailing by one, Giannis Antetokounmpo caught the ball and began to patiently back down Lance Thomas. With two seconds left, he turned then released a fadeaway jumper that fell through the net almost exactly as time expired. One of the NBA’s brightest young stars hitting a cold-blooded game winner: basketball fans couldn’t have come up with a better ending if they tried, which makes it all the weirder that the NBA seems determined to delegitimize Antetokounmpo’s heroics.
As the league announced in its daily “Last Two Minute Report”, which assesses the officiating from the last two minutes of the previous day’s games, Antetokounmpo should never have had the chance to shoot the game winner at all. Instead, he was guilty of a five second violation, dribbling below the free throw line with his back to the basket for more than five seconds. But that wasn’t all. In fact, Antetokounmpo shouldn’t have even had the chance to be called for his violation. A few seconds earlier, Carmelo Anthony should have been whistled for a defensive five second violation, which would have given the Bucks a chance to take the lead with free throws.
There is nothing wrong with the NBA monitoring and grading its officials and encouraging them to enforce the rules. A good start might be cutting down on the nightly traveling non-calls. Publicly calling out the referees for their failures in the last two minutes of games, though, is an utterly pointless exercise. Referees always get far more blame for their failures than credit for their successes, and with every blown call now readily available in gif form, fans have incontrovertible evidence that the refs are human. But in trying to make things right, the NBA gets it wrong. Rather than assuaging concerns about the officiating or giving fans closure, the Last Two Minute Report does the exact opposite, pointing out referee failures that fans weren’t even aware of and bringing the very legitimacy of the game outcomes into question.
The Bucks-Knicks game, of course, won’t be replayed. We won’t know what would have happened if Anthony had been called for the defensive five seconds, let alone what might have changed if a thousand different human actions by the players and the officials hadn’t happened just as they did over the entire 48 minutes of the game. What we are left with should be good enough: Giannis Antetokounmpo catching the ball, backing down his defender, rising up and draining a game winner.
Image courtesy of NBA.com