The NBA has a senseless rule on its books, but nobody knew it, because we’d never seen it before. Nobody knew it, that is, except the officials watching from the NBA’s replay center in Secaucus, N.J.
With 0.6 seconds remaining and the Magic trailing 108-107, Orlando’s Mario Hezonja threw a lob to teammate Aaron Gordon at the rim. Except, before Gordon ever got to the ball, the clock operator in Los Angeles started running the final few tenths of a second, and the horn sounded on a Lakers win.
Because the clock shouldn’t start until somebody touches the ball, the officiating crew convened on the court, called in a replay to the NBA’s command center and received further instructions to enact Rule 13E-9-2: “If the ball is released on an unsuccessful field goal attempt or is loose when the horn or whistle sounds, the ball will be jumped at center circle between any two opponents in the game.”
“Any time there is either an inadvertent whistle and/or a horn when the ball is in the air,” officiating crew chief Bill Spooner told pool reporter Bill Oram, “there’s no possession and we go center circle.”
Naturally, once the officials ordered a jump ball rather than a do-over, the Magic had no shot. Almost as soon as Lakers center Brook Lopez touched the ball, the buzzer sounded on a Lakers win. Again.
“I mean, that sucks for the Magic,” said Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas, via ESPN. “I am glad we won.”
“We feel cheated,” Gordon said afterward, via the Orlando Sentinel. “It was just a terrible end of a game of basketball. It didn’t even give us a chance to win, and that’s the last time we see ’em [the Lakers]. We wait a year to play ’em again. They’ve got to change that rule and I think they will.”
Added Magic coach Frank Vogel: “They took the ball from us and made it a jump ball with 0.6 seconds, which kills any chance of us tying the game or winning the game. I don’t know. It’s just common sense would tell me that in that situation, the clock started early, that you do redo the possession.”
The Magic weren’t exactly cheated, because the rule is the rule. (And Gordon wasn’t going to make the original play, not with three Lakers shadowing him.) But the rule is also dumb and needs to change.
“It was bad,” said Gordon. “So they’ve got to change the rule. An inadvertent whistle? It didn’t even give us a chance to win. That’s not how you play. That’s not how the game of basketball is played.”
Clock operators are provided by the home team and approved by the league office — a practice that changes in the playoffs to remove bias. So, what (besides the risk of losing a part-time job) is to stop a clock operator from running the time early every time the opposing team faces a similar situation?
“It doesn’t make any sense,” added Magic center Nikola Vucevic. “I think they’ve got to look into that. It’s a rule the NBA has, but it doesn’t make any sense because Lopez didn’t touch it. Nobody touched it. The clock expired before it even got to whoever, and so I think we should’ve gotten the ball back.”
Now that we know about it, don’t be surprised if the league’s competition committee rewrites the rule.
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