Pacers vs. Warriors: As George Hill Kicked the Ball, Did Referees Kick the Call?
With the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors deadlocked at 91 with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation, Warriors guard Monta Ellis was dribbling near half court, preparing to set his team up for a potential game-winning shot.
Instead, Pacers guard George Hill made sure that didn't happen.
As Ellis attempted a standard crossover dribble in front of a closely-guarding Hill, Hill moved his right leg, ultimately contacting the loose basketball with his foot and deflecting the ball into his waiting hands for a game-winning steal and layup.
But was Hill's takeaway legal or did a referee miss the call?
For this game-deciding final play, officials Courtney Kirkland and Tony Brown occupied the trail and slot (center) positions. As Hill was crossing over from Brown's primary area of coverage to Kirkland's chief section of the court, either official may have been responsible for coverage at the time of the turnover.
NBA Rule 10-IV-b prescribes a penalty for kicking the ball or striking it with any part of the leg, provided "it is an intentional act. The ball accidentally striking the foot, the leg or fist is not a violation."
Rule 10-IV-c further specifies, "A player may not use any part of his leg to intentionally move or secure the ball."
The key word in both subsections is "intent," something that occurs on purpose, that is planned or consciously and deliberately performed.
This particular rule requires officials to read a player's mind: Did the player willfully move his leg with the objective of moving the ball or otherwise causing it to deviate from its course had the leg not been willfully moved?
Before you answer, I'll remind you the officials get just one shot at this play, in real time, from one angle. Kick ball (striking the ball) violations are not subject to instant replay review, though any controversial play that occurs in the final seconds of a game will be replayed ad nauseam by sports networks and the like.
While many observers will convict Hill of intentionally kicking the ball, such a determination is made ex post facto, upon consulting multiple slow motion replays from multiple angles.
Hill appears to willfully change the direction of his right leg with the purpose of contacting the basketball, moving it away from Ellis' possession so that Hill can complete a steal and score a game winning layup.
For Golden State and coach Mark Jackson, this play might be the ultimate manifestation of that sports-themed quote of folklore, "sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn't."
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.
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