LOS ANGELES — The game ended, and Bradley Beal immediately wanted answers.
Following the Washington Wizards' 113-112 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, which featured a wild flutter of a finale that saw big shots by both teams, Beal approached officials and wondered what every Washington player and coach on the sideline was questioning: What happened on the final play?
Soon, Coach Scott Brooks, ready for a heated interrogation, rushed onto the floor as well. The pair petitioned the officials for a while, but the explanation Beal and Brooks received was as confusing as the game's final 1.1 seconds.
Beal's first attempt at the game-winning drive appeared to come immediately after the final buzzer had sounded. As Clippers players waved the basket off, officials huddled.
The crew consisting of Bill Spooner, Rodney Motto and CJ Washington ruled that a clock malfunction had negated Beal's play. Washington was awarded the ball again, but this time with a tenth of a second now erased off the clock and the ball to be inbounded on the sideline, roughly five feet from the corner.
The reason? Possibly nothing more than tough luck for the Wizards.
Beal said he was directly quoting an official, who offered a description of a rule that he had never heard of in his five-plus years in the NBA.
"You got to excuse my language because I'm going to say verbatim what they said," Beal warned. "It's called the 'tough sh-- rule.' I don't really understand it. I don't get it, man."
After the game, Spooner, the crew chief, spoke to a pool reporter and explained the statute by its more proper name in the NBA rule book: "Rule 13 Section 1A-5."
"The wasted time, if you will, the time that they lost, was 1.1. With an inbounds at 1.2, that leaves, mathematically, 0.1, and that should have been where we reset it," Spooner said. "We actually made the mistake in [the Wizards'] favor, if you will, and reset it at 1.1.
"By rule, it's a clock malfunction, early start, and we have certain protocol to do on that play, which should have meant 0.1 rather than 1.1."
Spooner also explained the Wizards had to inbound the ball "at the point of interruption" of the previous play where Beal first touched the ball.
Spooner's interview happened after the Wizards (14-12) had boarded the bus in the loading dock of Staples Center, losers in both of their games in Los Angeles this season. The clarification did little to pacify a team that believed it had a game-winning basket wiped away.
"We had a great play," said Beal, who started slowly but finished with 25 points on 21 shots. "Now that you take that away, it gives the defense a chance to set up now and change some things. Now we got to go back and change into a different play."
And the new play fell completely flat.
Second-year point guard Tomas Satoransky set up as the inbounds passer but had a difficult angle to work with while Clippers center DeAndre Jordan defended. Not only that, but Satoransky had to throw to ball in to beat a potential five-second violation.
As the play set up, Beal drew two defenders after running to the top of the arc. With the five-second clock counting down in his head, Satoransky couldn't find Beal or Otto Porter Jr., who had snapped out of a slump with a 10-for-16 shooting afternoon (4 for 8 from the arc) for 27 points. Instead, Satoransky got rid of the ball by passing it in to center Marcin Gortat, whose role on the play was simply to provide a screen, not to take the game-winning shot.
A catch-and-shoot 21-foot jumper by the center turned out predictably — Gortat's angled shot missed off the front of the rim.
Before the failed jumper, Gortat played another significant role in the final 12 seconds of frenzy.
Clippers guard Austin Rivers started the exchange with a three-pointer to put Los Angeles up one. However, he got that shot only after Jordan pushed off Gortat (uncalled) for an offensive rebound.
Beal responded by attacking the rim, scoring and drawing a foul to put Washington back up two with eight seconds remaining. But that allowed too much time for a scorer like Lou Williams, who pulled up about five feet behind the three-point arc, with Beal in his face, to make a three-pointer that ultimately provided the final margin.
In his role as a bench scorer, Williams tormented the Wizards for a game-high 35 points, making 11 of his 20 attempts from the field, including 4 for 8 from the three-point arc, and eight assists.
Though Brooks spent a considerable time after the game talking to officials, when he addressed the media he did not use the final sequence as an excuse. Instead, Brooks made pointed comments about his team.
"I never complain about tough decisions and tough plays at the end of the game that the refs have to make. It's tough. They had nothing to do with the offensive rebound, and they had nothing to do with guys not ready to play," Brooks said. "We have to have all of our guys ready to play. This is a team game. We need all guys ready to play, and we didn't have that this afternoon."
With the game tipping off at 12:30 p.m. local time, the earliest start on the schedule, the Wizards experienced the basketball equivalent of hitting the snooze button. They jolted to the 10-0 start, then slumbered the rest of the first half, providing open shots to an unrecognizable cast of Clippers, a shadow of the perennial playoff team of recent years with the trade of Chris Paul and the injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic.
Beal started the game 0 for 5. Kelly Oubre Jr., who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, finished scoreless and produced a plus/minus number deep in the negatives. Markieff Morris played sporadically in the second half after picking up his third foul early in the third. Both Morris and starting point guard Tim Frazier sat out the fourth quarter.
The loss wasted season highs for reserves Mike Scott (22 points) and Ian Mahinmi (14 points) as well as a strong afternoon for Satoransky, who contributed 11 points and six assists. However, Satoransky blew a pair of free throws with 51.9 seconds remaining with the Wizards up four points.
After Satoransky's failed free throws that would have advanced the Wizards' lead to six, Williams connected on foul shots that trimmed it to 109-107, setting up the back-and-forth in the final 12 seconds. But by the end, Washington experienced 1.1 seconds of tough luck.
"Like, it's a freak rule," Beal said. "To me, it really didn't make sense because you take a basket away and you go back, and he said we get the same amount of time, but we didn't get the same amount of time. The ball was placed in the corner.
"It's a crazy rule. There was nothing we could do about it," Beal said. "The officials said there was nothing they could do about it. It just was what it was."