After Friday night’s 119-117 triple-overtime loss, the Sixers were haunted by one moment.
It wasn’t Andre Roberson’s game-winning bucket on a dish from Russell Westbrook. It wasn’t a scoring play. It wasn’t even anything that one of the 10 players did on the court.
As time was about to expire in the second overtime, Dario Saric secured a rebound after a missed Roberson layup. Joel Embiid and Brett Brown immediately called for a timeout.
Originally, the clocked ticked on and Saric dribbled one time before heaving an almost full-court shot that missed. The officials watched the replay in order to see if the Sixers had called timeout before time expired. They had.
On a slow-motion replay it’s clear that once the ball was locked into Saric’s hands Embiid starts calling for a timeout before Saric puts the ball on the floor.
The officials make the call, they put 1.2 seconds on the clock and award a timeout to the Sixers. But then, when the Sixers were ready to come back in and inbound the ball in the frontcourt, they’re told they must inbound from the backcourt.
Brett Brown was livid. The players were confused.
“First [the officials] asked us what side of the floor did we want to advance it to and we told them,” Brown said following the loss to Oklahoma City. “Then we walked out and they say ‘No, you can’t advance it, it goes full court.’ ”
Brown added that the officials noted Saric dribbling as a reason for the ball not being advanced. Saric did not dribble the ball until there was 0.8 seconds remaining.
“I remember Dario grabbed the rebound and I called the timeout and I didn’t see any dribbles, I don’t think he dribbled the ball,” Embiid said.
This is all important because the 2017-18 officiating staff rule book states clearly that once a ball is “dribbled or passed after receiving it from a rebound or a change of possession, the timeout shall be granted, and, upon resumption of play, the ball shall be in-bounded on the sideline where play was interrupted.”
If a rebound is secured and a timeout is called before any dribble or pass is made, the rule book says “the team granted the timeout shall have the option of putting the ball into play at the 28-foot hash mark in the frontcourt or at the designated spot out-of-bounds.”
“The dots don’t connect,” Brown said.
Since the timeout was called before Saric dribbled, the Sixers should have inbounded the ball in the frontcourt.
Even on the live broadcast, ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy was confused by the officials’ decision.
“Why couldn’t they advance it?” he said. “Did they pass the ball?”
The Sixers practice end-of-game situations often and have specific plays that they’re ready to use in these situations. Brown drew up one such play for his team, expecting to have the ball closer to the scoring basket.
The officials didn’t tell the Sixers that they couldn’t progress the ball until they came out of their time-out huddle and the last-second decision by the officiating crew threw the Sixers off.
Robert Covington said that moment changed everything, and Ben Simmons agreed.
“They didn’t tell us we couldn’t progress the ball until we actually had to run the play, so that messed us up,” Simmons said.
The difference between a full-court play and a half-court play when there is so little time left on the clock can mean the difference between scoring and not scoring. Instead of having a chance to score, Covington tried to send a pass from the backcourt into the frontcourt, which was deflected by Paul George and the game went into a third overtime.
The NBA releases a daily report on officiated events that happen in the last two minutes of regulation time or overtime periods of every game that is within three points. The play in question was assessed by the league, which admitted the officials made the wrong call.
The last two minute report from Friday’s game stated the following about the play:
“After review, it was determined that the 76ers called timeout with 00:01.2 remaining on the game clock, which was prior to Saric’s (PHI) dribble. Therefore, they should have been given the opportunity to advance the ball into their own frontcourt for the inbound.”