Here’s the setup.
The Raptors trailed the Kings by three points with 2.4 seconds left. Toronto had a side inbounds coming off their final timeout. The inbounds pass from Patrick Patterson doesn’t quite hit Terrence Ross in the mitts — he has to chase it down — but he’s able to collect and nail the deep jumper over Matt Barnes at the buzzer. He got it off with 0.4 on the clock. We’re going to overtime.
Except ... wait, did DeMarcus Cousins tip that inbounds pass? If he did, the clock should have started then.
The officials send it up for review, and on replay it’s clear that Cousins does tip the ball. But the clock didn’t start right away. It starts before Ross gathers the ball. That indicates that the timekeeper didn’t see the deflection, but started the clock early. Or that the timekeeper didn’t respond to the tip quickly enough, perhaps because he didn’t anticipate it.
By the rulebook, since the clock did not start when Cousins tipped the ball, this is considered a clock malfunction. If there is a clock malfunction when the game clock runs or should have run to zeroes at the end of any quarter, officials have to review it. By the rulebook, if there’s a made field goal involved, officials have to determine whether, “the shot left the shooter’s hand before the expiration of actual time.”
So, out in the swamp in Secaucus, N.J., officials in the NBA Replay Center tried to determine whether Ross got the shot off in actual time, or 2.4 seconds from tip to shot. After a few minutes of review, they determined that the actual time between Cousins’ deflection and Ross releasing the ball was 2.5 seconds.
The tip caused Ross to be 0.1 seconds late in actual time. No basket. Kings win.
The Raptors did not take it well. Here’s Dwane Casey going apoplectic.
Here’s Kyle Lowry no-commenting his entire postgame interview.
Here’s Patterson getting mad online.
Again, according to the rulebook, the officials made the right call, which was validated in the league’s Last Two Minute Report. And for the most part, the refs got it right.
The league even released a statement regarding the game’s final moments. From the NBA:
“After review at the league office, we have concluded that the end of the game was officiated correctly by NBA rules. We reviewed all aspects of the final 27.4 seconds and below is a summary of our evaluation.”
But outside of the rulebook’s necessarily strict policies — in a just and perfect world -- the shot should have counted. Ross played the clock he saw, not the actual time that could only be determined on close review.
Ross didn’t look up before he shot, but certainly if the Raptors coaches had seen the clock start when Boogie tipped it, they would have screamed at Ross to shoot more quickly. Ross may not have taken an extra dribble, he may have released quicker. He may have missed! But in those situations, you’d like to see players judged by their ability to respond to the conditions as they appear.
That said, there’s a line of argument from Raptors fans that doesn’t stand up to examination. The Kings had committed a 24-second violation on the previous possession, and a close review of the clock suggests the Raptors should have had 3.3 seconds for their play, not 2.4 seconds.
The Kings had taken a timeout after Cousins rebounded a missed Lowry free throw; the timekeeper reset the shot clock after the timeout, which ran 0.9 seconds off of the shot clock improperly. The Raptors didn’t catch it, or else the officials would have fixed it.
But since the Kings’ final play itself was an obvious 24-second violation, the clock was not reviewable by the Replay Center. The rules are the rules. We know the world isn’t always fair. Neither is basketball. Kings fans are all too aware of this reality.
In the end, the game wasn’t settled by a ref watching replay. It was decided by an incredible play on the court. Only it wasn’t Terrence Ross’ shot. It was DeMarcus Cousins’ deflection.
(All video clips via NBA Reddit.)