LeBron James’ buzzer beater in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was perhaps a season-saving shot that was both a direct response to Derrick Rose’s similar buzzer beater two days earlier, a soothing moment 26 years after Craig Ehlo and an indirect announcement to the world that Chicago is MJ’s house no longer. It was also preceded by a number of NBA absurdities and technicalities that made the final seconds of the game and, thus, LeBron’s shot, a complete sham.
First, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt tried to call a timeout he didn’t have at the start of Cleveland’s final possession with 8.4 seconds and the game tied at 84, a violation which should have resulted in a technical foul.
Officials didn’t see it and Cleveland’s rookie coach was saved from forever being mentioned in the same breath as Chris Webber. “I almost blew it,” Blatt said after the game, which gave the false impression that he didn’t blow it. He did, he just didn’t get caught.
Then, after the ball went out of bounds with under two seconds remaining in the game, the referees looked at the replay to determine how much time should be on the clock, eventually adjusting it from 0.7 to 1.5. But during that review, Cleveland used the time to huddle and set up their final play despite their lack of timeout.
How is that allowed? The Cavs had blown that last TO on an inbound play in the final 30 seconds (another basketball pet peeve*) but were still afforded an undeserved 60-90 seconds to plan for the last-second shot that fell. In essence, Cleveland got a free timeout after using up one of the thousands of timeouts NBA teams are given during a game, all because of a replay review. It feels like the only thing not reviewable in the NBA is a coach calling a timeout he doesn’t have.
* Basketball should not allow teams to be bailed out by a calling a timeout. It’s a pox on the NCAA and NBA. Imagine if Peyton Manning could call timeout when a defensive end is charging toward him unabated. That’s essentially what happens in basketball. Timeouts shouldn’t be able to save teams when they’re in danger.
LeBron was probably fouled on the play that preceded the shot, so that should be noted too — though the refs were well within their right to (refreshingly) swallow their whistles there. He also made the shot, so all credit there too. And the game was going to overtime if LeBron missed, so you can’t say this was the difference between and losing.
But the extra timeout is an unfair advantage similar to when a player fouls out of a game and teams use the allotted substitution time to make an impromptu rap session. In one case, like the one in Chicago on Sunday, referee incompetence brings about an advantage. In another, what should be a penalty — a player being disqualified — does the same.
What’s the way to fix it? It’s irrelevant — it won’t be. The NBA loves giving teams little advantages (e.g., the ball being moved to half-court after a post-basket timeout) so it’s unlikely they’ll deem this one worthy of review. And anyway, enforcement would be difficult. What would they do — instruct players to stand on the court and not speak during the review? “The quiet game” barely plays with kindergartners, let alone grown men.
LeBron says it didn’t matter anyway.
“The play that was drawn up, I scratched,” he told reporters after the game. “I just told coach, just give me the ball.”
It’s a great line and one that makes you wonder what the heck play Blatt had originally called, if not one for LeBron. Still, the player and coach had no business talking it over. But they did, all thanks to a rule designed to facilitate drama, not fairness.