The NBA Playoffs are supposed to be the pinnacle of all the NBA has to offer- fast, competitive, high-quality basketball. For the most part, the playoffs are just that, and have been great to watch this season. However, the NBA’s replay system, in an attempt to take some of the pressure off the referees and aid in making correct calls, has instead put more of the focus on the officials and off the players, while bring pace of play to a screeching halt.
It’s all in good intentions, of course. By allowing the officials to go to the booth more often, the game is called more correctly. However, more often than not, these replays are taking at least two or three minutes apiece, completely stopping the flow of the game. It’s essentially a full TV-timeout that we’re forced to watch live. Usually, these breaks consist of watching the referees all gather up and stare at the replay monitors, followed by repetitive instant replay from several different angles. If the refs are trying to determine possession, rarely do we actually get a replay that clearly shows who touched the ball last. The announcers provide their input, speculate on why the replay is taking so long, and stall until the game resumes.
Frequently, fans and commentators complain about how the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy is harming the product the NBA produces by making the game slow and boring. As I’ve written about here, I disagree, and feel the NBA should not change its rules to benefit a small number of players who deserve to pay the price for their poor free-throw shooting. However, regardless of your stance on Hack-a-Shaq, you have to admit that while teams are intentionally fouling, basketball is still being played, and at the very least it can be comical to watch the struggles of some players on an unguarded, “free” shot.
What makes the replay system worse, even, is how limited it is in terms of what can be reviewed. If, when officials check for possession when a ball goes out-of-bounds, they see a blatant missed foul on the team which would receive the ball, they can’t do anything about it. That team stills receives the ball, because you can’t backtrack and call a foul. We can, however, wait around for absurd amounts of time while the zebras debate a common foul or a flagrant 1 (hint: it’s hardly ever a flagrant 1).
Only in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime are the review rules expanded to include calls such as out-of-bounds plays, blocks/charges, potential goaltending or basket interference, or shot clock resets. Additionally, the NBA releases “Last Two Minutes” officiating reports of all close games, where all referee calls and no-calls are judged by the league and given official ruling the day following the game. For instance, during the controversial end to the recent Thunder-Spurs game 2, the NBA officially stated that there were five missed calls during the game’s final sequence, including fouls on both teams.
Just like extended replay, these reports, designed to provide clarity on important calls, actually harm the game. If you’re interested, ESPN’s J.A. Adande wrote a great article on this idea. Basically, by pointing out every officiating flaw down the stretch, you make your own referees (who usually do a great job by the way) look poor, and take the focus off the players on the court. You’re essentially feeding the scores of fans who will angrily look to blame the ref for their team losing instead of the players, the ones who ultimate decide the outcome.
The NBA needs to cut down on unnecessary replay time and allow for the review of certain situations that would normally only be checked at the end of games. A way I believe they could implement this would be by allowing coaches a certain number of “challenges” to be used like in football or tennis. The NBA should have faith in its officials to correctly make calls, and if a coach happens to disagree with a call, they challenge it. Any challenge would immediately be sent to the NBA Replay Center in Seacaucus, NJ, where they will review the angles and provide a quick response to the in-game officials, hopefully dramatically reducing time spent on review.
The NBA referees do a great job, but by making a few changes, the NBA could do a great deal to keep playoff games exciting and reduce criticism of their refs.