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Trying to make sense of Clippers-Thunder out of bounds call

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

What happened on the controversial out of bounds call? (USATSI)
What happened on the controversial out of bounds call? (USATSI)

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The controversy at the end of the Oklahoma City Thunder's 105-104 Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Clippers was palpable.

As Reggie Jackson drove the lane in a sudden transition opportunity, Matt Barnes swiped at the ball, made contact with the left hand of Jackson, and the ball popped loose and went out of bounds. The ruling on the floor by the officiating crew of Bennett Salvatore, Tony Brothers and Tom Washington was that the ball was off of Barnes and it would be Thunder ball on the baseline. Since we were in the last two minutes and video review was available, the officials went over to the monitor.

Here's the play one more time:

There are some rules and guidelines at play here, but first we should get to why Brothers and his crew decided it should remain Thunder ball. After the game, Brothers released a statement on the controversial ruling that has Clippers fans (and fans of teams who probably don't want to face the Thunder later in the playoffs) so incensed.

When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City. We go review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it's inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor.

Um ... what?

I'm going to watch the replay again. Yep, it's quite conclusive what happened. Jackson had both hands on the ball and Barnes swiped down. Barnes made contact with the left hand, causing the ball to come loose from Jackson's grasp. The ball went out of bounds off of Jackson's right hand, which is causing the controversy here.

Rule 8 Section II - c of the NBA rulebook states:

If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession.

There are two ways this is being interpreted on social media right now. One side of the argument is saying that since Jackson had both hands on the ball, Barnes slapping one of the hands and the ball going out of bounds is within the rule for the Thunder retaining possession of the ball. It doesn't matter which hand is being hit because both were in contact with the ball, regardless of him being in the process of transferring the ball strictly to his right hand.

The other interpretation of this rule is that since the ball was last touched off his right hand, Barnes would have needed to touch his right hand and not his left. Reading the rule above, the language seems ambiguous enough to not specify a "last point of contact" that would justify this interpretation. Considering he had both hands on the ball, does the language of the rule give enough leeway for this?

The second issue at hand here is the use of the replay review on the call. From the 2013-14 NBA Case Book in which replay review and other questions are answered, we have this point of emphasis regarding the use of replay (H/T - Danny Savitzky for finding this):

At 1:23 of the fourth period the officials rule Team A caused the ball to go out-of-bounds but were not reasonably certain. During instant replay review, the officials observe Player B1 having his hand on the ball and Player A1 hitting his hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds. The officials should confirm the call on the court following the review.

True, since Player B1's hand is considered part of the ball, Player A1
hit the ‘ball' causing it to go out-of-bounds and therefore the ball is
awarded to Team B.
RULE 8 - SECTION II - c

Now, if you have the first interpretation we went over from the rule above, it looks like the referees made the correct decision on this call. The Thunder should have been given the ball because Barnes slapped Jackson's hand, which was touching the ball along with his other hand, and it caused the ball to go out of bounds off of Jackson. However, if you agree with the second interpretation instead, you won't accept this Case Book example justifying the call after the review.

The curious thing remains is how the officials could offer up the explanation of inconclusive evidence when they had the rule at their disposal, justifiably open to the interpretation that would keep the ball in Oklahoma City's possession. The officials may have accidentally gotten the call right, which would obviously make Doc Rivers furious at the ruling when he was presented with that explanation by the refs.

Regardless of whether the call was correct, which it seems to be, the reasoning for it from Brothers and the officiating crew appears to be inconclusive, to say the least.

 
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