Posted by Matt Moore
In the Thunder's epic Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets, there were an incredible amount of seemingly big moments. Every time one team would land a haymaker, the other would respond. Just when Denver thought it had buried the Thunder, Kevin Durant would land another three. Just when OKC thought it had finally cemented the comeback with a six-point lead late, Nene charged back. And then, this play happened to give the the Thunder a one-point lead late.
It's a close call, but...
Here's the definition from the NBA's rulebook. The one most will look at is Rule 11, Section 1-A, b.:
b. Touch the ball when it is above the basket ring and within the imaginary cylinder.
But it's not that simple. Nowhere in Rule 11. is the definition of "in the cylinder" defined. The ball is clearly in the cylinder... partly. Take a look.
So it seems easy, right? Half the ball is in the cylinder. So it's in the cylinder. But the NBA rulebook does not define "in the cylinder." It's a judgment call, likely left open to protect the officials, like a lot of rule interpretations. But without that, you can make the argument it was in, and out, of the cylinder.
But what about the net? That's the obvious thing, right? Funny thing. Here's the only place the net is mentioned in the interference/goaltending section outside of coming up from inside it, from the full rulebook:
h. Vibrate the rim, net or backboard so as to cause the ball to make an unnatural bounce, or bend or move the rim to an off-center position when the ball is touching the ring or passing through.
Okay, so grabbing the net obviously will vibrate it. But a. the ball is neither touching the ring nor passing through, and b. he did not cause the ball to make an unnatural bounce nor c. move the rim. Unless you want to get into chaos theory, which is a slippery freaking slope.
So. The ball was both in and out of the cylinder. And Perkins did touch the net but did not create an unnatural bounce, nor move the rim. But wait, there's more! How about G.?
g. Touch any live ball from within the playing area that is on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring. This is considered to be a "field goal attempt" or trying for a goal.
Okay, so it's a live ball. It's in the playing area. And it's on its downward flight with an opportunity to touch the basket ring (the ball winds up hitting the rim as Perkins guides it down). so it's the equivalent of a defensive player swatting a ball on the way down. Except the ball has already hit rim. So it's not really applicable here. Plus, if this was taken literally, the alley-oop would be illegal off a missed shot.
So we're back to b. and h.. Is the ball in the cylinder? Is using the net causing an unnatural bounce?
Then there's this video. It walks you through a similar situation, and the determination is that the call is interference because the base of the ball is on the rim. As the ball's path leads it to bounce off the rim and out, you could argue that's not the case here. And since Perkins touches it just before it hits rim, it also gets out of that.
At its heart, this comes down to the cylinder. The most widely accepted terminology is that if any part of the ball is in the cylinder, it's a violation. But since the NBA rulebook doesn't define that, it leads to situations like this. Which is going to make tomorrow tons of fun for Stu Jackson.
The reason the play was important was because it gave the Thunder a one-point lead. A Westbrook jumper would give the Thunder a three-point lead, and the Nuggets faced a three-point deficit instead of a one-point deficit.
Now, from there, Raymond Felton blew a possesion in a terrible way, which is on him. The Nuggets missed a ton of free throws, which is on them. The Nuggets had every opportunity to win this game and did fail to close the deal. But it does create a really bizarre situation.
We'll update you with the league's explanation for how this play was correctly, or should have been called.
Update from a Twitter follower, from an NBA explanation post:
Once the ball is on or directly above the rim, no player can not touch the ball.
Of course whether the ball is directly above the rim...