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In-Season Tournament Gets Everyone’s Attention With A Glaring Officiating Fuck-Up

Austin Reaves #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers is defended by Kevin Durant #35 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns in the second half during the 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament quarterfinals at Crypto.com Arena on December 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

You’re faintly aware of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament. You’ve seen the ads with a distressingly gray-haired Michael Imperioli. You’ve seen the migraine-inducing courts designed group-stage play. You know that the final four of this shindig will take place in Vegas, just to drive home the fact that the tournament exists primarily as a shiny new thing for you to bet on. And you know that these games are the same, low stakes, early regular season NBA games you’ve always known and avoided. But the NBA has new TV deals looming on the horizon, they need these games to, at the very least, simulate a playoff atmosphere. Well-hell-hell … I think you and I both know the easiest way for Adam Silver and company to do that! BRING OUT THE CROOKED REFS!

Here’s the express background on this play: We’re in the quarterfinal, with the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Phoenix Suns. Winner goes to the tournament semifinal in Vegas for a chance to win the NBA Cup (who cares) and $500,000 per player (OK that’s more like it). The loser, as play-by-play man Ian Eagle reminds the audience, goes home … and then continues its season as normal. The stakes could not be pretend-higher.

The scene is now set. Let’s get to the fuckery.

Lakers bench guard Austin Reaves hits what appears to be a dagger three to give the Lakers a 105-101 lead with 15.1 seconds left on the clock. Four seconds later, Kevin Durant hits one of his trademark pull-up jumpers at the other end to cut the lead to two. James then inbounds the ball to Reaves who, upon getting double-teamed by Durant and Devin Booker, pees his pants and loses control of the rock. AND THERE’S THE STEAL BY BIRD! HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL! ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!!!!!!

Except that James calls timeout “during” this sequence. Or at least, that’s what the refs would later tell God and the world, allowing the Lakers to retain possession of the ball and denying Phoenix the opportunity to set up a deciding shot. Watch the sequence again and it’s clear that James signaled for timeout only after Reaves had lost the ball. Play should have been allowed to continue. Everyone knew it. I knew it. You knew it. James knew it, because why else would he have called a timeout otherwise? Reggie Miller, doing color for this game, also knew it and said as much: “But Ian, the ball was a loose ball. How could it have been a timeout when no one had possession?”

That’s a good question Reggie, and one that Suns head coach Frank Vogel would also like to know the answer to. Here now is what crew chief Josh Tiven told the press after the game:

During live play the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout. Through postgame video review in slow motion replay, we did see that Austin Reaves had his left hand on the ball while it’s pinned against his left leg, which does constitute control.

My ass. Watch that replay again and you’ll see that you, the reader, have exactly as much control of the ball as Reaves does at the moment of truth. No matter. Tiven and the officials have their own truth—one that allowed the Lakers to win after Durant missed a desperation three at the gun—and are sticking with it. The Lakers will go to Vegas. The Suns, who lost this game while wearing the same unis they blew the 1993 NBA Finals in, are denied paradise for the 159th time. Meanwhile, Miller’s open incredulousness at the call was scrubbed out of the NBA’s official YouTube clip of the endgame, which only adds to the suspect nature of the proceedings.

That, of course, is the cheese. I was more than happy to pretend that this pretend tournament didn’t exist. But now that the NBA introduced some quality, Joey Crawford-approved rigging to the deciding games, I am hopping mad. How dare the NBA order up that call from New York? How dare they deny the Phoenix Suns, about whom I care nothing, a victory to which I am even more indifferent? YOU THINK I’M GONNA LET THIS STAND, SILVER?!

Fuck and no, I won’t. No no, I’m gonna tune in tomorrow night to watch the New Orleans Pelicans—the Pelicans? Really?—exact justice upon these Lakers and reclaim the honor not just of Phoenix, but of America. And if Tiven and his minions pull any more stunts that night, well then I’m gonna watch the Final even HARDER, just to show you that I mean business. We all will. Stephen A. Smith has already made 17 different Stephen A. Is Disgusted faces this morning at your growing treachery. Everyone is primed to milk this crime for all the content they can muster! SO I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY, YOU BALD FUCK.

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