SACRAMENTO – What happens when a team takes – and makes – a buzzer-beating shot when the clock didn’t start on time?
As the Toronto Raptors learned the hard way Sunday night, it doesn’t count.
The night after Kanye West stormed off the stage here at the newly opened Golden 1 Center three songs into a concert, there was an equally strange ending of the game between the Raptors and the hometown Sacramento Kings. Raptors wing Terrence Ross connected on a three-pointer that seemingly tied the game at 102, the ball leaving his hand well before the final buzzer.
But as a lengthy replay ensued, everyone inside the arena was confused as to what was taking so long. That was particularly the case after a replay on the in-arena scoreboard showed the ball clearly leaving Ross’s hand with 0.5 seconds on the clock, leading all in attendance to assume another five minutes of basketball lay ahead.
Then lead referee Mike Callahan, who had been communicating with the NBA’s Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, took off his headset and waved off the basket. Suddenly, the Kings had been handed a victory, snapping a four-game losing streak and sending their fans in attendance into ecstatic celebrations. Meanwhile, Kings Coach Dave Joerger made a beeline for the exit, while Raptors Coach Dwane Casey and his players frantically tried – and failed – to get a suitable answer for the reversal.
So, what exactly happened? According to Callahan, who spoke about the matter with a pool reporter (in this case, this reporter) after the game, the initial review took place because of a clock malfunction due to the clock not starting when DeMarcus Cousins tipped the inbounds pass from DeMarre Carroll to Ross.
“First of all, the [replay] trigger was a clock malfunction,” Callahan said. “We had the ball deflected, and the clock didn’t start.”
With that piece of information, the officials back at the replay center then had to determine how much time had elapsed between when Cousins managed to get his fingertips onto the ball and when the clock started.
“It was 2.5 seconds,” Callahan said of the total play time — from the tip by Cousins to the release by Ross.
Because there were 2.4 seconds on the clock when the ball was inbounded, that meant the shot did not get off in time, which is why the replay center concluded the shot didn’t count, a ruling Callahan said the officials in the replay center came to after consulting a digital timer on the screen inside the replay center that was viewed from different angles.
Not surprisingly, this information was taken very differently, depending on which team you asked. The Kings, of course, thought justice had been served.
“My belief was, whether my opinion is [right] or not, was that it would not be overturned, and that we would play overtime,” Joerger said. “So hats off to the NBA. They clearly got it right.”
The Raptors? Well, let’s just say they didn’t quite agree with that assessment.
“I’ve got to hear another explanation better than that,” Casey said. “Because we reviewed it about 10 times in there and even if the clock started once DeMarcus Cousins deflected it, Terrence Ross caught it, shot it with point-whatever it was, with plenty of time.
“I don’t know where the malfunction came. I’ve got to hear more than that, because I just watched the same review that they had.”
Meanwhile, when Kyle Lowry was asked for his thoughts about the play in a variety of ways by reporters, his answer was the same each time: no comment.
DeMar DeRozan also declined to talk to the media about it, while Ross himself couldn’t understand how the call was made.
“I knew it was at least two seconds,” Ross said. “So, regardless of if he tipped the ball or not, I knew I could still take a dribble and get it off. It wasn’t like I just had to shoot it right away, so I was conscious of the time. I just don’t know how somebody tipping the ball adds zero point six, zero point whatever they said. I don’t know … it’s tricky. I don’t know.”
Raptors forward Patrick Patterson made his feelings known about the situation on social media after the game: “Looking forward to the apology from the @NBA even though it won’t do s— for the outcome. #haha #raptors.”
The Raptors will undoubtedly file a protest with the NBA Monday, but it seems unlikely it will wind up working out in Toronto’s favor. The best argument the Raptors have is the possibility the shot clock didn’t start quick enough on Sacramento’s prior possession, meaning more time should have been on the clock after the Kings committed a shot clock violation.
However, the shot clock also counts down by tenths of a second, and it was clearly 2.4 seconds on the game clock when the shot clock violation occurred. So unless the NBA is willing to correct the time from a second instance close to 30 seconds earlier – which seems extremely unlikely – it’s hard to see how a Raptors protest of the result will succeed.
The only successful protest in the last 30 years came from a game between the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat in 2008, so it is extremely unlikely the Raptors will, though it wouldn’t be unprecedented. The Heat protested the result – an overtime loss in Atlanta – after Shaquille O’Neal had been incorrectly fouled out of the game with 51.9 seconds remaining in regulation. The mistake happened because the official scorer credited O’Neal with a foul actually assigned to Udonis Haslem earlier in the fourth quarter.
After winning the appeal, the Heat ironically wound up losing the do-over, played on March 8, 2008 in Atlanta, and was immediately followed by the Hawks and Heat playing their second game of the season.
Because Toronto and Sacramento have already played both of their games this season, trying to figure out the logistics for a do-over would be difficult. And, given that the Heat’s appeal is the only one in the last 30 years to have been successful, it’s unlikely such a process will have to be sorted out in the first place.
Regardless, what had been a rather mundane, boring game between the Raptors and Kings Sunday night wound up being one few in attendance – and none that played in it – will be forgetting anytime soon.