As the voice of the Dallas Mavericks since 2005, Chuck Cooperstein has called play-by-play for roughly 1,430 professional basketball games. Which, if you add them all together, probably took only slightly less time to complete than the final two minutes of Tuesday night’s Suns-Clippers playoff game.
If the four timeouts taken during the last 120 seconds of the Suns’ victory did not lead you to drift off to sleep, the five replay reviews maybe did. And if you were among those victimized by the Sandman during all that downtime, you missed an epic ending in a 104-103 classic that presented the Suns a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Western Conference finals.
The game that tipped off just after 9 p.m. EDT ended just before midnight. That’s almost enough time to play a college football game.
“It is a bad thing,” Cooperstein told Sporting News.
The NBA has tried to address the length of its endgame situations in recent years, adjusting the timeouts available in that period from three for each team in the final two minutes to two for each team in the final three minutes as of the 2017-18 season. In a close game, that’s still four long stoppages when the action is getting most intense. But it’s probably about as far as the league can go and still allow teams to properly strategize.
The real issue now is replay review.
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And the issues with replay review are profound.
1. The type of plays considered. One of the problematic replay reviews in the Suns-Clippers game occurred with 9.3 seconds left, when Clippers defensive ace Patrick Beverly knocked the ball loose as Suns star Devin Booker dribbled along the right sideline, with officials awarding possession to Phoenix. Beverly immediately asserted the officials should review the play, and they did.
After a looooong delay, the refs returned and reversed the call. Indeed, as Beverly swatted the ball from Booker, the last contact was with Booker’s hand.
But for as long as the NBA has been in business, all the way back to 1949, that possession logically would have been presented to the Suns. We’re talking a common scenario through more than 100,000 games over 72 years. Because the only reason it went out of bounds was Beverly’s action, and his action did not cause the ball to deflect off Booker’s knee or foot – it cause the ball to leave his hand and travel out of bounds.
“What makes absolutely no sense is that outside of the last two minutes of the game, that never would have been called for the Clippers. That would have been Phoenix ball,” Cooperstein said. “There’s got to be some common sense allowed in officiating. And that, there, is not common sense.
“Since Naismith put up the peach basket, we’re officiating the game one way. Now we’re going to officiate it a different way.”
2. The apparatus of replay. The NBA has a replay center to help provide game officials with providing the ideal camera angles as rapidly as possible. Former game official Jason Phillips runs that department at its headquarters in New Jersey. The crew chief views the replay in question and can ask for assistance from his fellow refs. “And there’s a replay official that’s there who’s supposed to be advising and helping to give them another set of eyes,” Cooperstein said.
That’s several different voices or viewpoints to be considered, and on a difficult call, that can delay the return to play.
“For me, it just seems like they want everybody to be involved,” Cooperstein said. “It’s a whole production that seems completely overdrawn.”
3. The de facto timeout. Because there is no rule against players gathering around their coaches for instruction during a replay review, coaches will seize every one of these opportunities to strategize. Not only is that counterintuitive – and sometimes unfair to a team that has timeouts available when the opposition has spent its allotment – it leads to a delay in resumption of play once the review is completed.
Cooperstein credits Indiana Pacers voice Mark Boyle with the suggestion that the crew chief be responsible for examining replays while the other two officials are tasked with assuring that each team be gathered away from its respective bench and coaches. Then, when a call is made, resuming play is immediate.
If you don’t think that’s a factor, consider that the review on the Booker out-of-bounds play began at 11:45 p.m. There were 9.3 seconds remaining. After the ball was inbounded, Clippers forward Paul George immediately was fouled. He missed two free throws. The Suns rebounded and called time. Out of that break, the Suns ran a play that resulted in a missed Mikal Bridges 3-pointer that was launched with 3.3 seconds left and knocked out of bounds by LA with .9 seconds left. At 11:52 p.m., the crew initiated another review to assure the right team got the ball.
It took seven minutes to play 8.4 seconds of basketball.
“The NBA, I want to say the average length of replay is about 40 seconds, which is fine,” Cooperstein said. “Hold yourself to that standard. If you can’t decide it, then let’s go and let’s move on.
“On that sideline play, there’s enough contention on both sides that, at that point, you’ve got to go with the call on the floor. And the initial call was for Phoenix.
“I’m a fan of replay. I really am. I absolutely think it has its place. But: It has its place, as opposed to being the ultimate Big Brother, which in many ways it has become because the people in charge of arbitrating the game are terrified of making a mistake. So they just figure, OK, this will bail us out. There are enough really good officials in that league that know what they’re doing and don’t need the help.”