John Wall of the Washington Wizards drilled a 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of the Boston Celtics’ Avery Bradley with 3.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 6 on Friday night. That basket stood up as the game-winner when Wall’s All-Star adversary, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, caught nothing but rim on his attempt at an answer with 1.7 seconds left.
In the moments before and after Thomas’ miss, though, some observers — including, as you might expect, many supporters of the guys in green — wondered why the King in the Fourth didn’t have a bit more time to work his late-game magic.
After Wall’s 3 put Washington on top 92-91, the Celtics called timeout with 3.5 seconds left to advance the ball beyond half-court and to allow coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play that could generate points. Stevens stationed Thomas in the backcourt, far away from inbounder Al Horford, and sent Avery Bradley out toward half-court to screen for him as he ran toward the ball. That action was a decoy, though; the Celtics’ eyes were really trained on the front of the basket.
As the play began, Celtics forward Jae Crowder ran from foul-line extended on the right side of the court down toward the baseline and looked to loop around toward the left corner, near the inbounding Horford. As he did so, he brought his defender, noted Boston fan favorite and Wizards swingman Kelly Oubre Jr., off a screen from Game 3 combatant Kelly Olynyk.
Washington switched that action, with Olynyk’s man, Otto Porter Jr., tracking Crowder to the corner while Oubre and Olynyk tangled under the rim. That’s where Horford went with the ball, hoping that the bigger, stronger Olynyk could box out the reedy Oubre for a quick-hit layup that would put Boston back in front. Instead, as soon as the ball reached Olynyk, Oubre fouled him. It was the Wizards’ final foul to give before sending the Celtics to the free-throw line on the next whack, forcing the Celtics to inbound again, this time with 1.7 seconds left.
Except … if there were 3.5 seconds left, and Oubre fouled Olynyk just about immediately on the catch, then how did we arrive at 1.7?
Pretty sure the Celtics should have had more time for that last shot. Clock went from 3.5 seconds to 1.7 when Olynyk was fouled on inbound.
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) May 13, 2017
— Steve Cain (@Cainstv28) May 13, 2017
— Raymond Wolslegel (@RayWolslegel33) May 13, 2017
It looks like referee John Goble has raised his hand to signal the foul with 2.7 or 2.8 seconds left, but the clock keeps running down to 1.7.
Yeah, that looks like a second or so that Celtics fans would sure like to have back. https://t.co/YsvnJTtcNg
It’s entirely reasonable that it would take a few tenths of a second between the time Oubre makes contact with Olynyk, the time Goble registers the call, and the time the clock operator stops the game clock. We’re dealing with humans who have to receive information through their eyes, process it in their brains, and tell their limbs to do stuff, after all.
It does seem weird, though, that the officials didn’t huddle with the replay crew to make sure how much time should have been on the clock before resuming play. It’s not at all a rarity to see the refs head to the video monitor, throw the headset on, and take a long time doing their level best to make sure the game clock’s right. Why not here?
Whatever the reason, the Celtics had 1.7 seconds to make something happen. They very nearly did …
… but, ultimately, they didn’t.
Pair the lost second with what sure looked like a missed offensive basket interference call on Oubre on a score by Ian Mahinmi early in the second quarter …
… and you can forgive Celtics fans for feeling like they might’ve gotten the short end of the stick in a tight game. Wizards fans might point to Markieff Morris not getting the benefit of the whistle on a clear foul by Jae Crowder on a dunk attempt, which resulted in the ball going out of bounds to Boston, who hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession for a five-point swing in the second quarter. When it comes to pointing out officiating issues and the benefits/costs associated with them, your mileage will typically vary, and frequently depending on which team you like.
If you’re listing reasons why the Celtics lost Game 6, there are plenty of things to slot in above a lost second and a missed goaltend — an inability to stop Bradley Beal; 24 missed 3-pointers; five total points from the bench; Crowder, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown combining to shoot 0-for-10 on uncontested attempts; etc. Still, as hard as the officials work to get as much right as possible, you can understand some frustration as to why this particular matter (which may or may not have mattered) fell by the wayside.
Whether Thomas and the Celtics would have been better equipped to regain control with an extra few tenths of a second is anybody’s guess. Either way, what’s done is done, and Boston now has to refocus on defending its home court one more time to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
“We put ourselves in position to win the game,” Horford said after the game, according to Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press. “Couldn’t finish it. … We can’t dwell on this.”
More NBA coverage:
– – – – – – –