Why the NBA must act after that critical Patrick Beverley decision

All eyes in the basketball world are focused on the NBA on Christmas Day.

It’s the league’s showcase day, with five games back to back throughout the day, featuring marquee matchups (or presumed marquee matchups when the schedule was announced) across the board.

This Christmas, the game at Staples Center was looming as one of the most important. A rematch of opening night where the LA Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers, and did it without the services of Paul George, leading many to question whether or not LeBron James had perhaps lost a step.

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Both teams were full strength on December 25, so the power structure in the Western Conference could become a little clearer.

We got a great contest, with the Lakers establishing a lead and the Clippers fighting back, but things could’ve been a little different if not for a controversial call late in this tilt.

With eight seconds left and the Lakers down three, LeBron found a matchup against Patrick Beverley and tried to take him on. It doesn’t matter that Beverley is only 6’1 and LeBron is 6’9. As LeBron rose to shoot, Beverley challenged and knocked the ball out of bounds, seemingly setting up one final inbound play to try to tie the game.

But, the NBA refs decided to review the play and here is where I get annoyed. Before people chime in, let’s get a couple of things straight. I am not a Laker fan. I am not a Clipper fan. I am not a LeBron fan, nor a LeBron hater. I really didn’t care who won the game. But, giving the Clippers the ball in this spot just feels wrong.

I know what the rule is. The ball clearly last was in contact with LeBron’s hand before going out of bounds, therefore, the replay review made the correct decision in overturning the call on the court and awarding the ball to the Clippers, effectively ending the game.

But, this rule seems wrong. It is not in the spirit of basketball, or really any sort of game, where a determination has to be made using super slo-mo, freeze frame, Zapruder film to determine when a ball left a player’s hand.

Again, yes, it was 100% the correct call, but one of my issues with this decision is that these plays happen time and time again during games, and they aren’t reviewed and the ball would’ve remained with the Lakers.

Patrick Beverley's clutch play denied LeBron James and the Lakers in the dying seconds. Pic: Getty

I think this rule needs to be changed. Or least tweaked. One solution would be to just not allow replays to determine out of bounds calls. To the naked eye, it clearly looks to be off Beverley, therefore Lakers ball. But, ruling out replay as an option seems antithetical to having replay available, so I don’t love that solution.

When a decision feels wrong, as this one did, despite it being correct with the letter of the law, then some sort of modification is required in my opinion.

How the NBA could fix the rule

When a ball is touched by two players simultaneously, I don’t believe it should be whose skin does it last remain in contact with that is deemed to caused it to go out of bounds. It should be the player who actually moved the ball in that direction that is the instigator of the ball moving out of bounds, Beverley in this case.

This would not change the plays where a player goes up to save a ball and throws it back in off an opposing player hoping for a ricochet back out of bounds to maintain possessions.

That is fine and should remain as is. But, it doesn’t feel the same as the Beverley-James play, where the ball moved in one direction purely because of what Beverley did.

I liked Greg Ehrenberg of Basketball Monster and Draft Kings’ idea.

Treating the hand as part of the ball is what we do on shot attempts, which is what James was doing in this incidence. So, if the hand is the ball, then the hand can’t be considered part of the body, therefore no contact with LeBron unless he touched it with another area, which he didn’t.

There are many basketball purists who will deride any change to the rules or dismiss any discussion that this was the wrong call. It was 100% the right call based on the slo-mo video evidence, but when something doesn’t feel right and requires high-level technology to be able to determine whose DNA was left on the ball last, I think a change would benefit everyone.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @redrock_bball and keep an eye out for the next mailbag tweet to gather your questions.