Ask the Czar

Carl from Aurora wants to revisit the rulebook:

In the last two minutes of the Bulls/Celtics game on Sunday, the ball hit two different Bulls players before hitting Paul Pierce last, who was completely out of bounds, and the ball was awarded to the Bulls. Why not the Celtics? The Celtic player was all the way out and was not in the field of play at all. Why was the ball awarded to the Bulls and not to the Celtics? I´m unclear on this rule, please clear it up for me. 

Carl, I understand your confusion. Since the Bulls were the last players to make contact with the basketball inbounds before it crossed the out-of-bounds line, it seems they should have been faulted rather than rewarded with the ball. However, a closer look at the game rules will help make sense of this call. According to Rule No. 8, Section II (c) in the Official Rules of the NBA for the 2011-2012 season: The ball is caused to go out-of-bounds by the last player to touch it before it goes out, provided it is out-of-bounds because of touching something other than a player. If the ball is out-of-bounds because of touching a player who is on or outside a boundary, such player caused it to go out.

If the basketball had ricocheted off the Bulls players and bounced on the floor out-of-bounds before hitting Pierce, then the officials would have awarded possession to the Celtics. Unfortunately Pierce was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because the ball hit Pierce first and the ground second, it was rightfully called out-of-bounds off of Pierce and turned over to Chicago.

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