In a decisive victory against the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Lakers had a dramatic stroke of luck when LeBron James was permitted a timeout during a pivotal moment of the game. This conquest ousted the Suns from the ongoing NBA in-season competition, cementing the Lakers’ place in the semifinals, where they will contend against the New Orleans Pelicans in Las Vegas come Thursday.
The controversial incident occurred following an inbound play during the game’s final moment. With only 11.2 seconds left on the clock, the Lakers held a precariously slim lead of 105-103. James was situated on the baseline beneath the Lakers’ hoop and made a critical inbound pass to Austin Reaves, which came after a layup narrowing the Lakers’ advantage to just two touchdowns.
Devin Booker of the Suns imposed pressure on Reaves, who subsequently lost control of the basketball. Simultaneously, in a desperate appeal for a timeout, James gestured dramatically to the referee, Tom Washington, from the opposite sideline. Intriguingly, Washington gave the nod to the timeout call while the ball was visibly uncontrolled.
Despite Washington ideally located to witness James’ appeal for the timeout up close, the real action was unrolling on the opposite side of the court. Suns’ assistants sought urgently for an explanation amidst the timeout. But once the timeout was approved by Washington, the ruling was irreversible, leaving the Suns with no option to contest or review the decision.
“The whole world seen it. I just got off social media and other players around the league seen it. Refs miss calls sometimes but when it’s a bit that obvious, it’s tough.”
Devin Booker on the refs granting LeBron/Lakers a timeout on Reaves turnover. pic.twitter.com/FkexzZH5Ul
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 6, 2023
This incident deprived Suns guard Grayson Allen of a viable opportunity to seize the loose ball before the controversial timeout, which could have transferred possession to the Suns with a close-to-seven-seconds window to overturn the two-point deficit. But as fate had it, the Lakers were allowed to maintain possession and capitalize on the situation.
Following the timeout incident, Anthony Davis of the Lakers successfully netted a free throw after drawing a foul from the Suns. This essential basket stretch the Lakers’ lead to 106-103. Unfortunately for the Suns, without having a timeout left, they could not progress the ball to the halfcourt after Davis missed a second free throw and Booker managed to secure the rebound.
A last-ditch attempt by Durant to secure a rushed 3-pointer was to no avail, as the buzzer signaled the end of the game, and the Lakers emerged victorious with a scoreline of 106-103. Josh Tiven, the crew chief, confessed after scrutinizing the postgame slow-motion video replay that they did notice Reaves had his left hand pinned to the ball during the course of the contentious play.
The officials defended their decision suggesting during the moment when LeBron James called for a timeout, their judgement deemed the ball was still in the Lakers’ possession. Once the game concluded, Booker didn’t hold back from voicing his opinions on the controversial play by posting an Instagram story that clearly illustrated the ball being loose while James signaled for a timeout.
Booker also shed light on the Suns’ unanimous pursuit for ‘a fair chance’ to claim victory. He conceded, ‘It is what it is. Refs miss calls sometimes. But when they’re that obvious, it’s tough.’ He even responded to critiques on whether he committed a foul before the ball was tossed away
He stated, ‘My hands are back,’ defending his position by clarifying that Reaves was putting effort to draw a foul. He observed that upon their accidental collision it appeared Reaves was attempting to regain control over the ball, with a significant 3-4 seconds before James called for the controversial timeout.
Frank Vogel, the Suns’ head coach, didn’t shy away from venting out his frustration in the postgame press conference. Vogel believed that ‘You can’t call a timeout on a loose ball.’ His dismay was rooted in the fact that, despite other aspects of the game being reviewable, this particular play was not subjected to the same precaution and transparency.
Vogel continued, ‘You can’t do it. So if the whistle blows, I don’t know why – everything in the league is reviewable – I don’t know why that can’t be reviewable. It’s not a foul, nor an out of bounds, which are typically the circumstances that can be reviewed. But any time in the game when a whistle goes off mistakenly, the ref can deliberate and call it an inadvertent whistle.’
Despite the dissatisfaction and doubts around the incident, the decision was irreversible. Vogel expressed considerable disappointment that a review was not conducted in this critical game-changing incident. His critical remarks surely raised an eyebrow about the conduct necessary in such high stakes matches.
The NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, with the introduction of the in-season tournament, aimed to create a wave of excitement amongst the fans. However, with Tuesday’s game resulting in a controversial turn of events, it wasn’t necessarily the sort of attention they were hoping to attract.