Like many other NBA fans, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was watching the thrilling conclusion to Monday night’s contest between the Knicks and Nets. And, like many other NBA fans, Lillard was left wondering what exactly happened on New York’s final offensive possession of the game.
Ky blocked Julius Randle shot attempt. Why did Scott foster blow his whistle and give the nets the ball?
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) March 16, 2021
OK, let’s break this thing down. Our investigation starts with the play itself…
The Knicks faced a three-point deficit with just 5.7 seconds left remaining on the clock. Knowing New York needed a 3-pointer to tie the game, All-Star forward Julius Randle caught an inbound pass, took one hard dribble and pulled up near the Barclays Center logo on the right wing.
Randle appeared to go up and down without releasing the ball, resulting in an obvious traveling violation. However, replays showed Nets guard Kyrie Irving cleanly swiped at the ball, which interrupted Randle’s shooting motion.
Brooklyn regained possession, New York fouled to stop the clock and James Harden drained two free throws to secure a 117-112 win. Randle appeared to approach officiating crew chief Scott Foster after the final buzzer, but his Knicks teammates stopped him before the situation escalated any further. Randle was clearly furious, knocking over a chair on his way to the locker room.
When asked about the traveling call during his postgame media availability, Randle declined to go into specifics, saying it’s “best that I just don’t comment on the situation.”
“I was just frustrated, obviously,” Randle said. “We fought so hard to come back and try to win the game. I was just frustrated. That was pretty much it. But we got another opportunity to go at it tomorrow [against the 76ers]. So, just focused on tomorrow.”
Julius Randle on leaving the floor in frustration after Monday’s game ended:
“We fought so hard to come back and try to win the game” pic.twitter.com/HS93wHQ82q
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) March 16, 2021
Irving, who had a game-high 34 points in the Nets’ victory, thought Randle made a smart adjustment after he touched the ball.
“I was either gonna foul early [or defend straight up], but I saw him lining up for a jump shot. I felt like I could get a good hand on it,” Irving said. “Scott called travel. I thought Julius made a good play afterwards putting [the ball] down. I was gonna foul him after that just to get him to the free throw line. But yeah, that’s how it looked. That’s how it went.”
Kyrie Irving describes what happened on the last play of Monday’s game defending Julius Randle:
“I thought Julius made a good play afterwards putting [the ball] down” pic.twitter.com/pfmjPXiPI7
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) March 16, 2021
Here is the pertinent section of the NBA rulebook regarding dribbling violations:
A player may dribble a second time if he lost control of the ball because of:
1. A field goal attempt at his basket, provided the ball touches the backboard or basket ring
2. An opponent touching the ball
3. A pass or fumble which touches his backboard, basket ring or is touched by another player.
PENALTY: Loss of ball. Ball is awarded to the opposing team on the sideline nearest the spot of the violation but no nearer the baseline than the foul line extended.
Foster offered a clarification on the traveling call as part of a postgame interview with Bryan Mahoney of The Associated Press.
“The defender was deemed to touch the ball, but not cause it to be dislodged or loose,” Foster said. “Upon that when the player alights he cannot purposely drop the ball or dribble the ball or be first to touch after he dropped the ball.”
Essentially, the referees determined Irving touched the ball as Randle went up for a shot, but he didn’t actually cause him to lose control of the ball. In that case, the rule allowing Randle to dribble again wouldn’t apply.
We’ll have to wait and see if the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report confirms that interpretation.