Why the Hawks’ protest will tell us much about the NBA

Were it just one game, the Hawks wouldn’t have been quite so irate. (Still mad, but less so.) But what happened in Cleveland on Wednesday must be viewed with an eye toward what happened on Dec. 19, 2007.

History lesson: The Hawks’ stat crew miscounted and ruled Shaquille O’Neal had fouled out when he hadn’t. The Miami Heat protested. The NBA ruled the final 51.9 seconds of that game had to be replayed. And,  for good measure, David Stern fined the Hawks $50,000 for “gross negligence.”

By the time the replay arrived on March 8, 2008, the man in question was no longer on Miami’s roster, Shaq having been dealt to the Suns at the trade deadline. And the Hawks wound up winning anyway. Still, it was a massive embarrassment for an organization that has known a good measure of embarrassment.

And now the Hawks await their day in court, pun only partially intended. They have a strong case. A Cleveland timekeeper failed to reset his 24-second clock after Al Horford gained a defensive rebound. (According to the Hawks, the timekeeper told Mike Woodson he pushed the button twice and nothing happened.) The Hawks led by a point inside the final two minutes. They wound up having roughly 13 seconds to shoot. They never got that shot.

When Woodson saw the clock running down prematurely, he called out the code word that means, “Get the ball to Joe Johnson!” But there wasn’t time even for that. The truncated-by-half possession ended with Josh Smith fumbling a pass and LeBron James gathering up the ball and triggering a sequence that wound up with the Cavs taking the lead on Anderson Varejao’s follow.

The Hawks' protest should be:

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The Hawks would never nose back ahead. Yes, we can fault them for blowing a 17-point lead, but what happened before shouldn’t affect the NBA’s verdict. The bottom line is that the Hawks were undone at a vital juncture not by a bad play or a ref’s bad call but by a systemic malfunction — the failure of the clock to be reset — that should have been corrected on the spot. But Ken Mauer, the lead official, told Woodson he didn’t know what the coach was talking a bout. (This again according to the Hawks.)

Indeed, there were three timing errors on the sequence: First, the 24-second clock didn’t recycle; next, the refs didn’t notice that the Hawks , owing to the non-reset, had committed an apparent backcourt violation after Horford’s rebound — NBA rules hold that a team must cross halfcourt in eight seconds, and the shot clock was below 10 when they did — and finally, that the erroneous shot clock had actually expired before LeBron took possession, which should have resulted in a stoppage of play.

The Hawks' protest WILL be:

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Why did the refs not notice anything amiss? Why did the timekeeper not use his horn to stop play and correct his mistake? (When Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com sought to ask Mauer’s interpretation, he was handed a brusque “no comment.”) And now, if the NBA chooses to let the outcome stand, we’ll be forced to ask an even more pointed question. Namely, does the league — as is widely believed — play favorites?

Say the teams had been reversed and LeBron’s side had been harmed by the lack of a reset: Would Mauer and crew have seen it differently? And will David Stern? The Hawks have long believed Miami’s starpower — Shaq and Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley — swayed the issue back when, but here’s where the NBA gets the chance to prove it didn’t. Here’s where Stern gets to say, “We treat all our franchises equally.”

If the Heat deserved a replay two years ago — and it did — then the Hawks-Cavs ending warrants one now. And if none is forthcoming, then won’t that tell us all we need to know about the NBA and its way of doing business?

130 comments Add your comment

Damon

January 4th, 2010
4:10 pm

Larry

January 4th, 2010
4:12 pm

Gilley

January 4th, 2010
4:14 pm

Great read! Glad someone is holding the NBA accountable because that was ridiculous. If things get close in the end of the playoffs ranking then games like this will definitely matter!

Hawksfan

January 4th, 2010
4:15 pm

Thank you MB. I thought the exact same thing and I bet you anything the protest will be dismissed. As long as Stern is the commish things will never change.

Larry

January 4th, 2010
4:15 pm

OK, second and I have NEVER been that close before, lol! It will NOT be replayed because we are the ATLANTA HAWKS and NOT the LA LAKERS, CAVS, CELTICS, MAGIC, SPURS, etc… The NBA is definitely biased towards it’s SUPERSTARS and SUPERSTAR teams. If Josh Smith had thrown his hands up in a temper tandrum like LBJ did in that game after a foul was called on him, what do think would have happened? TECHNICAL FOUL for sure……….but NOT on King James or Kobe or Garnett, etc…

Gilley

January 4th, 2010
4:16 pm

Thanks Mark for holding the NBA accountable. If the playoff seeding gets close at the end of the season, games like this will matter and should not be ignored or swept under the rug by David Stern and company. Fair is Fair and Right is Right.

Damon

January 4th, 2010
4:17 pm

Haha I beat you Larry. You suck at life.

Mark, submit this to the NBA

Terrell

January 4th, 2010
4:17 pm

Somebody’s going to come on here and say, ‘well, if the Hawks hadn’t given up that 17 point lead then they wouldn’t have had to worry about that.’ Last I checked the Cavs were a pretty good team and good teams make comebacks. That’s just a part of the ebbs and flows of the game. As a matter of fact, the Cavs came back more than once and the Hawks were able to push the lead every time. If there wasn’t thr shot clock malfunction who is to say Atl wouldn’t had done it again?

If they decide to do nothing about this, your right MB, it would show what the majority of us have seen all along.

Jamesr1991

January 4th, 2010
4:18 pm

Mark you are kidding, right? King James walks among the elite. He and his franchise shall not be pestered by such drival. Besides Lord Stern will find a way to fine the Hawks for bringing it up.

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:18 pm

Kudos, Damon. But I offer this gentle request: Be magnanimous in victory.

Reid Adair

January 4th, 2010
4:19 pm

Mark, you are exactly right. This was a perfect example of mismanaging a game by the officials and the clock operator. How the NBA rules on the Hawks’ appeal will be a telling sign of whether it’s all about the elite teams or they are truly interested in fairness.

I don’t want to say which one I think will happen.

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:20 pm

One thing I have learned, Terrell: A good team playing at home always makes a run. Always.

Jerry

January 4th, 2010
4:22 pm

What happens if they do redo it? Do the hawks get the ball with a 1 point lead and 2 minutes left?

Do you think it will be upheld mark?

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:23 pm

I think there’s a chance it will be, Jerry, because the timing error so clearly affected the game. And I would imagine the Hawks would indeed get the ball with 1:55 remaining and that one-point lead.

F-105 Thunderchief

January 4th, 2010
4:23 pm

Seems to me the only just thing is to award the win to the Hawks. ;)

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 4th, 2010
4:25 pm

Welcome back and totally agree and don’t forget the scorekeeper putting extra point on the board during the Hawks timeout after a homecourt three pointer.

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:27 pm

Can’t give them the win, Thunderchief, because the error occurred with so much time remaining. It wouldn’t be the same as waving off a basket at the final horn.

Jerry

January 4th, 2010
4:27 pm

Well if they made us do it with miami, then the same should happen. i watched that game with the sound down while playing with my son and didn’t notice it. Unbelievable this was allowed to happen. Did the hawks announcers catch it? Without sound, I couldn’t tell. That game was huge to the hawks mental mind as witnessed by their loss to the knicks after. I just can’t believe the refs didn’t do anything. You know they knew what was happened. Makes you think even more they are told to give help to the teams with superstars.

Dap01

January 4th, 2010
4:28 pm

Thank you MB for writing on the obvious. The NBA is losing credibility and this case will go along ways to verifying that loss.

The NBA’s treatment of King James is sickening!

Jerry

January 4th, 2010
4:29 pm

Good point chef. That was a 2 pointer. Before the ball left his hand, his foot did move over the line.

balismith

January 4th, 2010
4:29 pm

nba has always played favorites. star league where the star players and the star teama always get the best players …nba and the wwa play by the same rules

Jerry

January 4th, 2010
4:31 pm

Also how many times did a hawk player get fouled and nothing was called yet whenever cleveland goes down, they seem to get the calls in the critical moments of the game. Disgusting.

Thomas Freeman

January 4th, 2010
4:34 pm

Of course Stern will dismiss it. This is a man who fixed the lottery so the Knicks could get Ewing, made sure the Lakers beat Sacremento in ‘02, fixed the Heat-Mavericks finals so he wouldn’t have to hand Mark Cuban the trophy, let his buddy move the Sonics, with a great 40-plus year history in Seattle, to Oklahoma City, and has let officiating negligence become so commonplace that a ref can bet on games and nobody even notices. He has ruined the NBA and will always favor the stars. In his mind, Lebron deserves a win on his birthday and it’s the officials’ job to make it happen.

Joe's place Joe speaking

January 4th, 2010
4:34 pm

Good point Terrell! They did ( cavs ) make a comeback several times but Atlanta stayed strong and stayed on top. Who’s to say it wouldn’t have happened again. And great post mark!

dub366

January 4th, 2010
4:36 pm

I have always that said it Atlanta Teams do not get the respect that the other elite do.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 4th, 2010
4:38 pm

Alas friends an neighbors this travesty will not trump the 9 scoreless minutes the night before, iso game to Joe down the stretch in both games and another stinky lost to a lesser team in the Knicks.

IMO, Woodson can’t draw up effective half court game plays.

74 Dawg

January 4th, 2010
4:39 pm

This isfunny. Talking about NBA officiating and rules is like talking bout military intelligence: it’s a contradiction of terms. I used to love Skip Caray calling the Hawks on radio mainly because of the way he eviscerated the refs. I do not consider NBA basketball to be a sport anymore, and seldom watch. It’s more just scripted entertainment, like “professional wrestling”. Or wrassling, if you prefer.

StockDog

January 4th, 2010
4:41 pm

Great article Mark, I thought that I was the only one pissed off about the shot clock error. Watching it live, the first thing I thought about was the Miami game do over. However, ATL doesn’t have a superstar coach and player so the NBA will sweep it under the rug.

Their explanation will be that in the Miami case the ATL statistician made a mistake that is attributable to the team. They will saw the problem in Cleveland was shot clock malfunction and that it should have been corrected at that time. The fact that the Hawks did not call a time out to correct the malfunction made it impossible to correct it now.

It is all B.S. but the NBA will try to sell us this crap so they won’t have inconvience LBJ.

Jesse

January 4th, 2010
4:41 pm

I haven’t watched an NBA game since the Hawks/Cavs game in Cleveland. The calls in that game were so one-sided that it felt more like pro-wrestling than real competition, and the shot clock error only compounded that feeling (the Cavs shot 38 freethrows, the Hawks shot only 15 – and the Hawks are among the league leaders in points in the paint, so it’s not like they just shoot jumpshots all the time).

Basically, the general message I got from that game is that the Hawks will not be given a fair chance to beat Lebron, Dwight, or the Celtics come playoff time. I may see things differently if the NBA lets the Hawks replay the game (or if I get bored once football season ends), but for now I’m taking a break from the NBA.

74 Dawg

January 4th, 2010
4:42 pm

At least the wrasslers don’t come armed with guns. Not sure where they would put them anyway,with those tights. Do you think the NBA will ever go to tights Mark?

74 Dawg

January 4th, 2010
4:43 pm

Maybe a Kobe – Lebron Cage Match

DTC

January 4th, 2010
4:44 pm

You know Mark, as long as you are not discussing UGA, you sometimes makes sense. Sometimes.

Gmack

January 4th, 2010
4:45 pm

I the Hawks had played defense a little bit they when the game. However they spent the next 2 min. crying about a fail clock reset. They lost the game because they respect star players too much. Quit letting Lebron hit you in the mouth everytime you play him. He keeps bullying the Hawks and they won’t hit back. They won 2 out of 3 last year sweep them in the playoffs and 2 losses this season. Quit running like girls and fight Atlanta then the NBA will respect your plea until then you loss the game. Move on!

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:46 pm

From baggy trunks to tights: I see a new trend, 74 Dawg.

John

January 4th, 2010
4:48 pm

Man there is some horrible english on this blog. Go get your ged people. Jeez.

StockDog

January 4th, 2010
4:55 pm

Sorry John, I meant say and not “saw”. Just a typo on a blog, get a life.

WonderDawg

January 4th, 2010
4:56 pm

Thanks for this, Mark. Attention Hawks fans. Go to NBA.com, click on “contact us” and send an e-mail addressing this situation. Who knows, it may help the Hawks appeal…

Michael

January 4th, 2010
4:57 pm

So when will an edict be handed down from the front office?

Damon

January 4th, 2010
4:57 pm

Haha my bad, MB. Apologies to Larry. I have finally won! Lmao. Go Hawks and sorry again!

Damon

January 4th, 2010
4:58 pm

Interested to hear the outcome of the Mavs/Rockets appeal, a game also officiated by the amazing Kenny Mauer

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
4:59 pm

That’s OK, Damon. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of being “first.”

David Smith

January 4th, 2010
4:59 pm

David Stern has ridden the coattails of his superstars ever since he took over as commissioner of the NBA. If he doesn’t overturn this ruling it will only prove what many people have already know for years and that is if your star player isn’t a superstar you won’t get the calls in this league.

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
5:00 pm

And Damon, don’t think the Hawks haven’t noticed the presence of Mauer in that other appeal.

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
5:01 pm

Michael, I’d guess we’d know something by next week. But that’s just a guess.

Mitch (the one in Rome)

January 4th, 2010
5:02 pm

Good read, and glad you are back writing. I was watching that game and screaming at my television and my sons were asking me why I was so mad at the TV. I could read the ref’s lips when they were huddled and he said “I don’t know what (your are or they are) talking about.” How could he not? Fact is they were negligent and the game from that point forward should be replayed.

If the NBA let’s this stand we will know that they DO NOT treat their franchises equally.

Michael

January 4th, 2010
5:03 pm

I don’t know if anyone saw the Sports Center/ESPN coverage of the clock error because there was none. As Mark brings up in this article, you wonder what would have happend if it happend to precious LeBron?

I suspect it would be leading off sports center, come up as a topic on PTI/Around the horn and have some NBA expert to come on the night edition of sports center to tell us all how something wasn’t handed to LeBron.

Mark, may we forward this article to some of that Cleveland press that loves you so dearly after your comments about their town during the playoffs last year?

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
5:04 pm

Thanks, Mitch. I’m obliged. It’s nice to be back.

Art Vandelay

January 4th, 2010
5:04 pm

So, Gmack — just to be clear, are you suggesting that since Cleveland won the majority of the games between these two teams last year that the appeal should be rejected? Lovely logic there. And lovely English too: “…until then you loss the game.”

By the way, the comma key is just to the left of to the period. Get familiar with it before your next job interview…I can only imagine what your résumé must look like.

WonderDawg

January 4th, 2010
5:06 pm

The refs are so bad when King James gets in the lane. He gets “phantom” fouls called all of the time. The ball goes back up the court and those same refs let Josh get knocked to the deck with no call. And in the Cavs game in ATL, King James himself called a walk on J Crawford. He is indeed, The King…..

Mark Bradley

January 4th, 2010
5:07 pm

You’re right, Michael. I’ve pretty much blown my chance to hold elective office in that fair city again in 2010.