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Mario Chalmers' Three - Should It Have Counted?

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Update: Notorious ref agrees with analysis below

At the end of the 1st quarter of Game Three last night, the Miami Heat had 3.5 seconds to get up a shot before the horn sounded. 

Various writers have been hitting on the fact that this shot by Mario Chalmers probably should not have counted. While I am always hesitant to employ such static analysis to say that if the shot had been disallowed the Mavs would have won, it is still a huge bit of mis-fortune for the Heat to have been awarded three questionable points when the final margin of victory was only two. 

Interestingly, we here have had a few Thunder moments of our own that can help bring some clarity to the play. Here are the two factoids that we learned.

1. A player is not in the frontcourt until both of his feet and the ball are established in the frontcourt.

We saw this rule unfold with Kevin Durant in Game Five of the Nuggets series, where a backcourt violation was overturned because of where Durant's feet hit the floor first.  In Durant's play, because the first foot that hit the floor after he caught the ball was in the backcourt, by rule Durant was therefore established in the backcourt and would remain so until both feet were in the frontcourt. Durant could not commit a backcourt violation on this particular play unless and until both feet were in the frontcourt, and then he proceeded to misstep back into the backcourt.

In last night's game, Udonis Haslem was clearly in the front-court when he jumped and passed the ball back to Chalmers. However, when Chalmers jumped forward to receive the pass, both of his feet were still part of the backcourt; neither of Chalmers' feet had been established in the front-court (just like Durant). The difference of course was that for the Heat, the ball had already been established in the frontcourt, so any return back should have resulted in a turnover. Chalmers would have had to do his best wide receiver impression and drag his feet on the court before catching the ball in order to preserve the possession.

The referees missed the call, and Chalmers' last second-heave remained on the board as a harbinger for things to come.

2. The referees could not review the call.

During the Grizzlies series, we took the opportunity to delve into what kind of plays are reviewable. If you recall, there was a critical juncture involving a play that went out of bounds, so we cracked open the rule book to see what kinds of plays are reviewable.

You can see that end of period shots are definitely reviewable, and we have seen that type of play reviewed a number of times this season. Also, we have seen that a play is reviewable to see where a player's feet are in relation to the 3-point line. Lastly, as pointed to above, a referee can use replay to determine who retains possession after a ball goes out of bounds, as long as the ref stopped the action as a result.

Unfortunately, although it might seem like Chalmers' foot placement kind of touches on all three of these scenarios, in reality it is not on point with any of them. 

  • Did he get the shot off? Reviewable.
  • Did he have his feet behind the 3-point line? Reviewable.
  • Was he in-bounds? Reviewable.
  • Were Chalmers' feet established in the frontcourt before he touched the ball? NOT reviewable. 

The only scenario I could see where replay might have been applicable is if, after Chalmers had touched the ball, the ref had blown the whistle for a backcourt violation, in essence treating the backcourt like an out-of-bounds line. If reviewed, the ref would have naturally found that the play should be upheld, since there was in fact a violation. In the alternative, if Chalmers HAD established himself in the frontcourt and the ref had blown the whistle for a violation, then under this scenario the ref might have overturned the call.

As it stands though, I think the evidence is conclusive that the Heat received a gift that contributed to their final victory.


Tim Donaghy, yes, THAT Tim Donaghy, has been writing at Deadspin where he has covered the reffing in the NBA Finals. You may immediately discredit his efforts, and that would probably be justified, but even so he's still a trained official with little to gain by participating in this post-game analysis. He unequivocally agrees with the same conclusion that I have above, so, you know, I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

"This should have been ruled no good, and I can tell you exactly what happened when officials went over to check the replay. They said, "Holy ****, we missed it." There's nothing they could do, though. (A backcourt violation like this isn't a reviewable matter. Watch for that rule to get changed in the offseason.)"

Tim Donaghy on Game 3: How Refs Read the Players | Deadspin