MIAMI -- On the Spurs' final possession of regulation in Game 6 Tuesday night, Tim Duncan inbounded the ball to Tony Parker, who raced up the court and lofted an errant, fallaway shot from the baseline at the buzzer. One of the best Finals games in years was going to overtime.
But rewind that: Duncan, who'd been subbed into the game following an official play stoppage for a replay review of Ray Allen's game-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left, shouldn't have been on the floor. The league office confirmed Wednesday that Duncan had been substituted into the game illegally after the replay stoppage.
What does this mean? Since the Spurs didn't score on that possession and ultimately lost 103-100 in overtime, it doesn't mean much. A mistake was made, a rule was misapplied, but it didn't affect the outcome of the game.
But what if it had? If the Spurs had scored on the final possession of regulation and won the championship on that play, all holy hell would've broken loose. The Heat could've -- and presumably would've -- filed a protest with the league office over the Duncan substitution. Under the league's protest guidelines, there would've been an expedited ruling from commissioner David Stern.
If the Heat had won the protest, the Heat and Spurs -- and all the rest of us -- would've had to reconvene in Miami to pick up Game 6 from the point where the rule was misapplied with 5.2 seconds left and the score tied at 95.
Seriously, can you imagine?
Substitutions cannot be made following official stoppages for replay reviews. The ball can't be advanced, either, which is why the Spurs took the ball in under their own basket after Allen's 3-pointer was upheld on review.
The nightmare scenario, of course, would've been Duncan himself winning the game with a basket or putback, or at the foul line. But even if it wasn't Duncan who'd scored, any San Antonio basket in that situation would've resulted in a Miami protest and, quite possibly, a do-over.
Just in case you're wondering, there are no provisions in the rulebook for Miami to complain about the error on the spot and for the officials to huddle and wave off a basket if San Antonio had scored. The issue would've needed to be addressed through the protest procedure.
If the Heat had lost in overtime, they still could've filed a protest but would've had little, if any, chance of winning it. It has to be demonstrated that the misapplication of the rule directly influenced the outcome of the game. The only way for that to have happened in this case was San Antonio scoring on the final possession of regulation and winning the game -- and its fifth championship -- only to have to return at some point later and try to do it again.
If you can't believe you're reading this, join the club. I can't believe I'm writing it, either.
When referee Joe Crawford grabbed the ball following Allen's 3-pointer and stopped play, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was livid on the sideline. On Wednesday, he explained why. It had nothing to do with where Allen's feet were or who was on the floor defending the play.
"I was upset because I wanted to take it out and go," Popovich said. "There were five-whatever seconds left on the clock. He just made it. That's one of the great times when you can push the basketball against another team. They don't want to foul. The game is tied. Oftentimes, you'll see somebody go right to the hole, get a foul or a layup. And that was taken away with the review."
So Popovich didn't want to make a substitution there; he wanted to inbound the ball quickly and catch the Heat's defense on its heels. But once play was stopped, he did make a substitution -- one that shouldn't have been allowed.
And just when you thought every angle of a crazy, wonderful Game 6 was covered, we learn differently.
During the 2007-08 season, the Heat and Hawks had to replay the final 51.9 seconds of a December overtime game after the Hawks' official scorer inaccurately ruled that Shaquille O'Neal had fouled out. The game was picked up on March 8, 2008, at the point of O'Neal's disputed foul. Neither team scored while re-enacting the disputed 51.9 seconds, and the Hawks won, 114-111.
There hadn't been a disputed game replayed in the NBA since 1982, and interestingly enough, that one involved the Spurs. San Antonio had successfully disputed a 137-132 double-overtime loss to the Lakers based on a misapplication of the lane violation rule. The disputed portion of the game was later replayed, and the Spurs won, 117-114.