Close backcourt violation near end of Game 4 – almost a huge blunder for Dallas
We’ll be doing our analysis of many of the missed ref calls in Tuesday’s Game 4 Finals game over the next two days before Thursday’s Game 5, so please be patient if you’re looking for those.
Before we feature all of the missed or wrong calls, though, we wanted to feature one play that the refs got right (in our opinion). It was a big one.
With 9 seconds remaining in the game and the Mavericks leading 84-83, it was the inbounds throw-in play by Dallas’ Jason Kidd to teammate Jason Terry into the backcourt.
Kidd threw the ball toward Terry with the intention of the ball landing in the backcourt — to use the extra space the backcourt provides — so Terry could pick it up and gain possession.
But what happened is that Terry was just a few inches away from being called for a backcourt violation, and he might not have known it because it came within a split second of happening.
If Terry had not stepped on the backcourt line and had stepped just an inch before it, he probably would have been ruled to have still been in the frontcourt when he touched the ball. Then when he started to dribble it in the backcourt, he could have been ruled to have committed a backcourt violation.
We checked the rulebook, and this apparently would have been the ruling since the concept of the ball “breaking the plane” of the midcourt line applies to the ball going into the FRONTCOURT, not the backcourt. So that provision wouldn’t apply.
We picked through the rulebook and believe that since Terry had established a positive position in the backcourt by stepping on the line, he was “legal.”
But if someone else has a different interpretation of the rulebook’s somewhat complex language regarding backcourt violations in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, we’re open to hearing it. Some scenarios aren’t explicitly spelled out in the rulebook, so you have to go through the process of elimination to decide what the ruling should be.
Considering the fraction of the second that elapsed between Terry stepping on the midcourt line and touching the ball, and the premise that if you’re going to make sure you’re in the backcourt you won’t step on the line but over it, it’s probably safe to say that Terry was very lucky from being involved in one of the most infamous turnovers in recent NBA Finals history.
So give the refs credit, specifically Monty McCutchen, for not calling a backcourt violation. But it wouldn’t surprise us McCutchen or the other refs got a little lucky considering how quickly it all happened, and the fact that backcourt/frontcourt rulings are a little complex. Most of the backcourt violation rules are detailed about going FROM the backcourt TO the frontcourt (naturally) in comparison to throw-ins in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime when throwing the ball into the backcourt is allowed.
And surprisingly, backcourt violations are not reviewable by replay, which they should be in our opinion. The rules are so intricate and detailed compared to other rules, and backcourt violations don’t occur all that often (especially in the last two minutes of game). So giving the refs the ability to review plays that can be a matter of inches, or even breaking the plane of the midcourt line similar to how the NFL reviews goal line plays, seems to make a lot of sense.
Until that happens, it wouldn’t surprise us if refs have an “omission bias” toward calling backcourt violations because the consequences of making the wrong call could be huge. That’s why we think McCutchen may have been lucky — if he was experiencing omission bias — since not calling anything was the right call. But that may not be the case the next time.
If you haven’t checked out the video yet as you’re reading this, you’ll also see a dramatic clip where Kidd probably realizes how close of a play it will be as it happens, hoping and praying that Terry won’t touch the ball until he’s in the backcourt.