The first controversy of the NBA's new in-season tournament arrived on its opening night.
The Golden State Warriors escaped with a 141-139 road win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, but only after a Draymond Green offensive basket interference was overturned on a Stephen Curry winner.
With the game tied at 139-139, Curry needled his way through the OKC defense and made a layup with 0.2 seconds remaining in the game.
However, officials noticed Green had touched the rim as the ball bounced in the cylinder and called off the basket on offensive basket interference, which would have sent the game to overtime.
The tables turned one more time on the official review, when the call was overturned, sparking mass confusion on what parts of the rulebook could have led to such a conclusion. The game ended as a Warriors win, but the fight wasn't over for some.
Many noted that OKC's Josh Giddey had also touched the net on the play.
Steph's game-winner initially didn't count after Draymond was called for goaltending, but the call was overturned after the replay review showed Giddey touched the net first 👀 pic.twitter.com/K5NwPGT3Cv
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 4, 2023
For his part, Green pointed to Giddey as the reason why he made the ill-advised contact with the rim, then said official Che Flores had explained that neither Green's rim contact nor Giddey's net contact had actually affected the shot itself:
"My perspective was that my hand touched the rim, because I was going — it looked like the ball was about to pop out — so I was going to get a putback. When I jumped to get the putback, Giddey went back into my legs so it kinda brought my hand down and hit the rim. But hitting the rim is not a goaltend. I didn't affect the shot and we won. I also saw Giddey had pulled the net as well, so there was some confusion.
"Che had said if he touched the net and it didn't affect the ball, it's not a goaltend. And she said if I touched the rim and it didn't affect the ball, it wasn't a goaltend. I knew I didn't affect the ball, so I thought it was good."
Ref explains Draymond Green call that ended Warriors-Thunder
Crew chief Mitchell Ervin explained the decision after the game to a pool reporter, stating Green's touching of the rim did not cause the ball to take an unnatural bounce:
"It was clear and conclusive evidence that Draymond does not touch the ball. Although Draymond does touch the rim, he does not touch the ball, nor does him touching the rim cause the ball to take an unnatural bounce therefore a basketball violation does not occur on the play."
At this point, it's probably best to just dive into the NBA rulebook.
The rules that decided the ending of Warriors-Thunder
Let's go through every section of the rules covering basket interference and goaltending that pertain to touching the rim or net and see if we can see what the officials were seeing.
A player shall not touch the ball or the basket ring when the ball is sitting or rolling on the ring and using the basket ring as its lower base or hang on the rim while the ball is passing through.
The ball was still bouncing, not sitting or rolling on the ring, so it's not that.
A player shall not 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.
Green and Giddey both seemed to cause the rim/net to vibrate a little bit, but this rule is dependent on that vibration causing the ball to make an unnatural bounce. You can be the judge on if the ball made a weird motion as it was bouncing down, but the officials clearly believed otherwise.
A player shall not touch the rim, net or ball while the ball is in the net, preventing it from clearing the basket.
The ball was not in the net.
That's it. There's one more clause worth mentioning, and it's that if there are violations by both teams, then "no points can be scored, play shall be resumed by a jump ball between any two opponents in the game at the center circle."
So, basically, a double basket interference by Green and Giddey would have meant a jump ball and Curry's basket not counting. But the officials ruled that's not what happened. This all feels counter-intuitive given that the rule we often hear is just that players can't touch the rim on a shot, but the actual rules are clearly more complicated than that, and they worked out for the Warriors this time.
The ending might have been sour, but it was still an impressive night from the Thunder, who were playing without All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In his place, the Thunder were led by Lu Dort, who had a team-high 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and Chet Holmgren, who continued his Rookie of the Year campaign with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Curry had 30 points on 9-of-15 shooting (5-of-10 from 3-point range) with eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals.