Anybody ready for another protest in Atlanta?
Let's set the scene. With 0.5 seconds left in a tie game, the Raptors
designed a gorgeous inbounds play -- one they hadn't run all season -- that resulted in a lob to the shortest man on the floor, T.J. Ford. He was wiiiiiiide open, went up, caught the ball and laid it in, and the Raptors
celebrated what appeared to be their fourth win in five tries. Only a mandatory replay was left to confirm Toronto's victory.
And that's where things got a little hairy. The replay clearly showed that Ford released the ball just the tiniest fraction of a second after time expired. But that was only because the clock started at least a tenth of a second too soon, and showed 0.4 by the time Ford's hands hit the ball. The refs overruled the bucket, the game went to overtime, and Atlanta emerged with a 127-120 victory.
Raptors coach Sam Mitchell was upset with the ruling afterward, because the basket had been called good on the floor. By his logic, and it's a pretty strong case, the officials shouldn't have felt compelled to overrule the bucket once they saw they started the clock too early. The Raptors
were seriously investigating a protest as they returned to Toronto after the game, so stay tuned.
However, a league spokesman told ESPN.com that during a replay the refs can only review whether a shot beat the buzzer -- not whether a prematurely started clock was at fault. If so the Raptors
may be out of luck, as the refs would have followed the rule to the letter -- even though it produced a result that everyone in the building knew was wrong.
As far as whodunnit goes, three referees and the timer can all start the clock; a source told ESPN.com that the technology allows the league to trace whom it was. However, normally in last-second situations the trail referee starts the clock, and in this case that would have been Eric Lewis.
If the result stands, it will be a painful loss for Toronto. The Raps led by 17 late in the third quarter and allowed a game-tying 3-pointer by Mike Bibby before Ford's play when the Raptors
mistakenly failed to give a foul.
It also continues a long trend of bad memories in Philips Arena for Ford. Last season, the Atlanta scorer's table omitted a basket of his, costing the Raptors
two points in what ended as a close loss. And on Dec. 11, he suffered a scary neck injury that sent him to the hospital and kept him sidelined for two months.
As for Atlanta, the win keeps them quietly moving up the Eastern ladder.
It was the Hawks' fifth straight victory and ninth in the past 11 games.
Believe it or not, the Hawks now are closer to fifth in the East than they are to ninth, and have all but cemented the East's final playoff spot. In fact, should the Hawks' sweep this weekend's home-and-home with Philadelphia -- admittedly a tough proposition -- the Hawks will be only a game behind the Sixers for seventh place and own the tiebreaker.
That is, unless the league office decides to overturn the result in the coming days.