Tied with the Thunder in the closing seconds Friday night, the Bucks ran a simple out-of-bounds play to get superhuman monster Giannis Antetokounmpo isolated on the baseline against regular human Josh Huestis. Giannis is an insanely tough cover for anyone, and he found a way past Huestis, driving baseline and muscling home the go-ahead dunk with less than a second left on the clock.
That’s a move that, hmm, seems like it should not be possible? Tucked that close to the baseline, it should be impossible for a man that size to squeeze himself past the defender without going out of bounds. Giannis, of course, is from another planet, but the quickness and body control necessary to dart through that narrow passage while precisely landing both feet inside the baseline on every step, well, let’s just say there can’t be more than a few people on earth capable of pulling it off (although Giannis is very likely among them). The bucket left the Thunder with too little time for a realistic response, and the Bucks escaped with an important and hard-fought win after Russell Westbrook’s desperate heave fell short.
The problem is apparent if you watch the replay enough: Giannis did go out of bounds—his left foot crossed over the baseline on his way past Huestis, and so close to referee Leon Wood, positioned just out of bounds, that Wood could’ve reached out and grabbed a handful of jersey.
There is absolutely no reason to wait for the NBA’s last two minute report from this game—the basket should not have counted. Wood missed the call, but missed calls happen. What really blows is the refs were apparently powerless to correct that error, per ESPN:
Crew chief Derrick Stafford said after the game via a pool reporter that the play with Antetokounmpo was not reviewable.
“In any reviewable matter, there has to be a whistle called on the floor,” Stafford said. “There was no whistle blown for the play, so we couldn’t review it.”
That seems like a hilariously arbitrary, and arbitrarily applied, standard. It’s the very end of the game! Give it another 0.9 seconds, fellas—there’s gonna be a whistle! Second of all, there was a whistle! The referees stopped play to briefly sort out a clock issue, presenting what would certainly seem like an opening to conference with the league’s review center and make the correct call. Maybe that’s not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the rule, but, again, we’re talking about the game-deciding bucket! I have no doubt that the crew working the game felt bound up by the NBA’s review protocols, but I’d say this is pretty clear evidence those protocols need to be changed.
Two thirds of this crew—Wood and crew chief Derrick Stafford—were also working that Warriors-Cavs Christmas Day game, source of about as damning a L2M report as you are likely to see. NBA basketball is a fast and loose game played by giants, and refereeing the action has to be incredibly difficult. Minor and minor-seeming screw-ups happen all the time, in every game. Three regular humans can’t possibly catch everything. Last night was an instance where human error reared its ugly head at the worst possible time, but the NBA’s review system, in place to prevent exactly that sort of failure, left the referees and the Thunder high and dry. Sort this shit out, NBA.
Update: The NBA has released the L2M report from the game, and, of course, Giannis stepping out of bounds is ruled an “incorrect non-call.” Tough luck, Thunder!