With 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, LeBron James cut baseline, took a jump pass from Dwyane Wade, rose up and hit an almost impossible layup while smashing in to Tyson Chandler, tying the game and ending a little 5-0 Mavericks run. It was a huge play that turned around the end of the game.

Except it didn’t count because LeBron James was whistled for an offensive foul, negating the basket and giving the ball back to the Mavericks. Still a huge play, just didn’t turn things in Miami’s favor. And it all started with Tyson Chandler doing his homework. From the Dallas Morning News:

“I felt like it was a charge,” Chandler said. “I’ve seen that baseline move before, and for a couple of games now I’ve been thinking that if I can just get there and get set and make him think I’m going to jump, that I could get a charge. It just happened to be at a key time.”

Couldn’t have been at a more key time, really. With that one play, Chandler took away the Miami lead, kept Dallas’ crazy crowd on their feet and deflated the Heat, as they would go on to score just three points from that point on. It was one of those bang-bang plays that means everything in basketball.

And luckily for the Mavericks, it was a perfect charge call. Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook explains:

[This] is where the rulebook comes into play. You know those hash marks along the baseline that look a bit out of place? That is actually a very important line of reference for the refs called the Lower Defensive Box (here is it explained by NBA.com):

“The restricted area (RA) is the area within the arched line on the court located below the rim. Its purpose is to stop secondary defenders from taking a position under the basket in an attempt to draw the offensive foul when a player is driving to the basket. If an offensive player drives past his primary defender on the way to the basket and a secondary defender comes over, he must establish a legal position outside the RA to draw an offensive foul. If the drive starts inside the Lower Defensive Box (LDB – this is the area from the bottom tip of the free throw circle to the endline between the two 3’ posted-up marks), the secondary defender is legally allowed to be positioned inside the LDB.”

According to the rulebook, if a player starts his drive (or makes the catch) inside the lower defensive box, the restricted area is negated and a player can take a charge inside of it.  As you can obviously see, James doesn’t establish possession until he is inside of this line.  So at this point, Tyson Chandler doesn’t need to get his feet outside of the restricted area, he simply needs to be set.

Chandler gets set as James lowers his shoulder and bulls through him. Crawford blows the whistle and calls the offensive foul, correctly.

Incredible little piece of officiating there by Joey Crawford, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d type. That’s a tough, tough call to make in such a huge situation on one of the game’s biggest superstars and he absolutely nails it. Refs get a lot of stick for messing things up, and rightly so, but we need to give them some props when they make calls like these. This was a game-changing play for whoever got the whistle, so it’s great that it went the right way. (Also big ups to Jeff Van Gundy for correctly explaining the call on the spot, another thing I never thought I’d type.)

Sometimes we take for granted all the tiny things that have an effect on an NBA game. But when you see a correctly called play like this that was the result of a player being prepared for this very situation, you realize just how complex this game really is. Basketball is awesome, and this is just another reason why.