NBA grants appeal, to replay game

NEW YORK (TICKER) —The NBA on Friday granted a game protest filed by the Miami Heat, the league’s first upheld protest in over 25 years.

The Heat protested a scoring error in the final minute of their 117-111 overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on December 19 at Philips Arena.

The ruling will result in a replay of the final 51.9 seconds of the game’s overtime period, with the Hawks owning a 114-111 lead.

“There’s no excuse,” Atlanta vice president of public relations Arthur Triche said. “The mistake shouldn’t have happened. It was an honest mistake. In no way was anybody cheating, or trying to make some money on the game, or trying to stop the Heat from winning the game.”

The game will officially be finished prior to the next scheduled meeting between the teams on March 8 at Philips Arena.

“It’s human error; it’s unfortunate,” Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon, Jr said. “Sometimes, when you have a situation like that, you feel like the underdog and work harder.”

According to commissioner David Stern’s ruling, the NBA on Friday found that the Hawks were “grossly negligent” in committing a scoring error against Heat center Shaquille O’Neal.

With 51.9 seconds remaining in overtime, the official scorer’s table incorrectly assessed O’Neal with his sixth personal foul, disqualifying him from the contest.

It actually was the fifth foul committed by O’Neal, who was attributed with a foul late in the fourth quarter that was called against Heat forward Udonis Haslem.

Miami officials, who did not dispute O’Neal’s departure at the time, filed a protest immediately after the game.

The officiating crew of Bennett Salvatore, Leon Wood and Gary Zielinski spent about two hours reviewing the tapes of the game after the conclusion of the contest.

Hawks’ officials attributed the mistake to a communications error between different parts of the club’s scoring table team. The team was split apart two seasons ago as part of an NBA directive to open up more seats for fans closer to the action.

As a result, the part of the team that operates the official scorer’s book was located on the floor, while the part of the crew that runs the official computer was some 26 rows from the floor in the split between the 100 and 200 sections at Philips Arena.

Stern fined the Hawks $50,000, saying that the team’s scoring table personnel failed to follow league rules and failed to respond effectively when made aware of the mistake.

“Because of this conduct by Atlanta’s personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage,” a league statement said. “O’Neal - the Heat’s second leading scorer and rebounder that night - was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining.”

To add insult to injury, Atlanta, which began the day at 16-16, ended it two games below the .500 mark after a 102-98 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards. Along the way, the playoff-challenged club slipped from seventh to eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“I’m pretty sure everybody would have prayed for a day off today, if you told us that (was going to happen),” Atlanta forward Marvin Williams said. “We have to re-group and get ready for Chicago (on Saturday).”

As if things weren’t bad enough for the Hawks, who haven’t made it to the postseason since Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office eight years ago, the franchise managed to add another dubious chapter to its charred recent history.

Atlanta has endured eight long years of frustration since losing to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 campaign.

The club and its fans christened Philips Arena by building around the questionable character of J.R. Rider, won a franchise-low 13 games in 2004-2005 campaign and endured an ownership dispute that remains to this day.

“It’s always something when it comes to the Hawks,” Atlanta point guard Tyronn Lue said.

Just this week, the club has not been able to play on their practice floor because of flooding, lost the Heat’s protest and fell two games behind the break-even mark for the first time since December 11.

“As far as the Miami situation, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it in March,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “But right now, we have games that are important right now.”

It is the league’s first granted protest since December 14, 1982, when then-Commissioner Larry O’Brien upheld a ruling protest made by the San Antonio Spurs.

In that one, San Antonio was staked to a 116-114 lead with three seconds left in regulation when the Los Angeles Lakers’ Norm Nixon went to shoot the second of two free throws. Nixon faked a shot instead of releasing the ball and a double-lane violation was called, resulting in a jump ball.

The Lakers won the tip and scored the tying bucket. The contest ended with a 137-132 double-overtime win by Los Angeles.

But the Spurs successfully convinced O’Brien that the referees should have made Nixon re-shoot the free throw. O’Brien rolled back the score and the final three seconds of the game were replayed.

In the replay, the Spurs prevailed and also won the regularly scheduled contest that evening.

Atlanta hopes to not have the same fate.

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Updated Saturday, Jan 12, 2008