Instant replay looms large in Finals

The ball bounces out of bounds.
Players immediately point in opposite directions. Coaches leap to their feet
and scream at the officials. The referee makes the call, but isn’t certain.
Time to go to the videotape.

The league’s expansion of instant
replay to include out of bounds calls in the final minutes has played a role in
these NBA finals, where the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics have done
battle.

The referees went to the monitor
three times near the end of game three, three chances for better looks at the
kinds of close calls that can swing series. NBA league’s executive vice
president of basketball operations Stu Jackson feels instant replay is needed
in games like this.

“Certainly the replay system worked
in terms of being able to review some of our most crucial possessions at the
end of the game,” Jackson
said. “We feel our system is understandable, it’s narrow, it’s being
administered by the officials with minimal interruption of the game and I think
fans understand it.”

Yet one of those reviews opened the
debate about whether the replay system needed further tweaking. The NBA,
according to league commissioner David Stern, already has those discussions.

“We’re going to keep striving to
balance the desire and need to get it right with the fact that we are a two and
a half-hour game heading to four if we have too much replay,” Stern said.

The NBA instituted instant replay
before the start of the 2002-03 season, originally to review period-ending
baskets and fouls and a number of triggers have since been added. Replay is
used for officials to confirm a flagrant foul warranted an ejection or that
players left the bench during an altercation. Referees can now go to the
monitor to see if shots or fouls came beyond the three-point arc, whether they
beat the shot clock or if there was a clock malfunction.

The system was expanded this season
to out of bounds possessions in the two minutes of regulation or overtime.
That’s the one that came into play three times in the final 1:29 in game three.
The first two calls were overturned, the third was confirmed.

However, replays of that play with
39 seconds remaining showed Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo grabbing Lakers
forward Lamar Odom’s arm. But the officials hadn’t called a foul so they
weren’t allowed to after seeing the tape. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said that’s
a problem with the replay system.

“Those are the things that we
questioned immediately when they brought in the rule,” Jackson said. “You’re going to see a lot of
things happening now on this type of thing where if it’s a three-point play, a
guy might have stepped out of bounds and no one saw it, and he comes back in.
Now you’re looking at is it a 3-point shot or not, and you miss the fact that he
stepped out of bounds. What are you going to do to rectify the fact the
officials missed a call?”