The Atlanta Hawks plan to file a game protest after the shot clock failed to reset in the final two minutes of their 106-101 loss in Cleveland on Wednesday night.
After Cleveland's Mo Williams shot an air ball with 1:56 left and the Cavs trailing 99-98, the Cleveland scoring crew failed to reset the shot clock to 24 seconds. Mike Bibby dribbled across halfcourt and passed to Josh Smith, who lost the ball in the lane as the abbreviated shot clock was winding down. The Cavs went back the other way and scored on Anderson Varejao's putback of a Williams miss to take a 100-99 lead with 1:31 left. The Cavs eventually won on Varejao's first career 3-pointer, which made it 104-101 with 17.2 seconds left. The shot was reviewed and correctly upheld via replay, which confirmed that Varejao had both feet behind the 3-point line.
UPDATE: Here's the YouTube clip of the shot-clock sequence so you can decide for yourself whether the Hawks have a case.
The Hawks were involved in the rare instance when a game protest was granted by the league office stemming from their 117-111 overtime victory over Miami on Dec. 19, 2007. Commissioner David Stern found that the Hawks' scoring crew had incorrectly disqualified Miami's Shaquille O'Neal for his sixth personal foul, when in fact, it was only his fifth. The teams had to replay the final 51.9 seconds of the game, and the Hawks were fined $50,000 for violating NBA rules.
The teams replayed the end of the protested game on March 8, 2008 -- without O'Neal, who'd been traded to Phoenix by that point. Neither team scored in the replayed 51.9 seconds, and it went in the books as a 114-111 Atlanta victory.
It was the first game protest granted by the NBA since 1982.
Teams protesting regular season games have 48 hours to file the protest with the league office. The other team then has five business days to contest the protest, and the league office has five business days from that point to render a decision, according to NBA procedures. As in the Hawks-Heat scenario, if the protest is granted, the remedy would be to replay the end of the game from the point when the scoring error occurred.
UPDATE: It's difficult to predict how the NBA will handle this protest, but the Hawks clearly have an uphill battle considering how rarely they are granted.
The league came down on the Hawks for the O'Neal situation, in part, because the error was not corrected once the stat crew pointed it out. On one hand, the shot-clock sequence Wednesday night came at a critical juncture in the game -- the very moment when momentum swung to the Cavs' favor. On the other, it seems unrealistic to think that possession could change nearly 200 times in a basketball game without some type of clock error. And in this case, the Hawks would've had a better case if they'd gotten off a quality shot on the trip in question. Smith simply lost the ball in traffic, and it wasn't evident that he was in a hurry or was even aware of the shot clock situation.
The NBA clearly doesn't want to open the floodgates for protests that would muddle the schedule with do-overs. But with awareness so high about getting every call correct, it's hard to ignore an error that very well might have affected the outcome of a game.