OAKLAND, Calif. -- The reversal of a pivotal call in the closing minute of regulation launched a torrent of debate following the Golden State Warriors' 124-114 overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
With Cleveland leading 104-102 and approximately 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Warriors forward Kevin Durant drove to the basket against the Cavaliers' Jeff Green. As Durant, driving left, turned the corner on Green, he met LeBron James in the lane, where the two superstars collided.
"I read that play just as well as I've read any play in my career, maybe in my life," James said. "I [had] seen the play happening. I knew I was outside the charge line, and I knew I took the hit."
Official Ken Mauer, the game's crew chief, initially whistled Durant for a charge, with possession returning to Cleveland with 36.4 seconds remaining and a two-point lead. The referee crew elected to review the play, an option afforded to them by the NBA rulebook, to examine whether James was situated fully outside the restricted area.
"The reason for the trigger is that we had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area," Mauer said following the game.
Replays showed James' feet were some distance outside the restricted area, prompting the Cavaliers to question the necessity of the replay review.
"LeBron was clearly 4 feet outside the restricted area," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "So it doesn't make sense to go review something if -- the review is if he's on the line or if he's close to the charge circle, that's the review. He wasn't close."
But Monty McCutchen, the NBA's vice president and head of referee development and training, said multiple factors on the play contributed to its degree of difficulty, and the presence of any apprehension by game officials can cue the replay monitor.
"It's not about proximity [to the restricted area]," McCutchen told ESPN. "It's about doubt. There are many instances when, as an official, your head is on a swivel. For instance, on that play, Jeff Green's foot is on the line as well. What looks on the front side to be obvious, isn't obvious from [where the lead official is positioned]. When you have a collision of three bodies in the restricted area, sometimes if you caught that play late, sometimes there is doubt."
While the officials were huddled around the replay monitor at the scorers table, the Cavaliers were eagerly plotting their next action.
"We were told they were reviewing if I had my feet outside the line," James said. "And when I knew that, I was like, 'OK, that's going to be our ball.' I knew I was outside the charge line, so that's what the communication was to us. We were over on the sideline, drawing up a play, you know, to try to execute, try to go up a couple possessions."
Since the 2012-13 season, when officials review a restricted area block/charge call in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or the overtime period, they may also confirm the accuracy of the initial call. Upon review on Thursday night, the game crew determined that James wasn't in full legal guarding position.
"It was determined he was out of the restricted area, but he was not in a legal guarding position prior to Durant's separate shooting motion," Mauer said. "So we had to change it to a blocking foul."
Durant proceeded to the foul line and drained two free throws, tying the score at 104-104. The game ultimately went to overtime, when the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers 17-7 for the win.
Following the game, Lue was particularly despondent on behalf of James, who scored 51 points in the loss.
"To do what he did tonight and come out robbed, it's just not right," Lue said.
While Lue was expressing his frustration to the media, McCutchen was inside the officials' locker room with the officiating crew, watching the play frame-by-frame and discussing the adjudication of one of the most consequential NBA Finals calls in recent memory.
"What you can't have is a referee who is bull-headed when all of that is taking place, and we find out later that there was a rule in place to help us get the play correct, but we ended up missing it because we were not applying the rule," McCutchen said.