The NBA ordered the teams back to the court after upholding Miami’s protest of a 117-111 loss to the Hawks on Dec. 19. The Heat went to the league after the home team’s stat crew mistakenly ruled Shaquille O’Neal—who’s now with the Phoenix Suns—had fouled out with 51.9 seconds left in overtime when he actually had only five fouls.
The game resumed from the point of the protest and neither team scored during their brief time on the court. They got a 15-minute break, then returned to the court for their regularly scheduled game.
“Come on Hawks fans, it’s overtime!” the Hawks announcer yelled to the crowd before the start of the night’s first game. “Let’s make some noise!”
The replay took a little over 2 minutes to play. Miami had the ball first, but Mark Blount missed a turnaround jumper in the lane. Joe Johnson could have clinched it for the Hawks, but his bank shot rolled off the rim with 19 seconds to go.
Miami raced down court and called timeout to set up a play that could have forced a second overtime period—more than 2 1/2 months after the first one began. The Heat managed to get the ball to Dwayne Wade, but he missed a desperation 3 from the corner with 1.5 seconds left.
Wade ran off the court with a smile, while embattled Hawks coach Mike Woodson pumped his fist. The game certainly meant a lot more to Atlanta, which is battling for the eighth playoff in the Eastern Conference, than it did to the hapless Heat.
“It’s huge for our ballclub in a sense because if we’re able to handle our business tonight, then we move up in the eight spot,” Woodson said before the replay. “That’s what’s more important than anything.”
The Hawks seemed a bit confused about what to do after winning the replay. The players lingered on the court for a few seconds, then headed to the locker room. But they quickly returned to begin warming up for the regular game.
Miami (11-49) has the worst record in the NBA, its postseason hopes long since abandoned. If Riley had known how this season would turn out, he probably wouldn’t have bothered protesting the December loss.
“Back then—it seems so long ago—we were desperate,” Riley said. “We were fighting desperately every night to try to stay in games and win games. We thought we were going to get out of this funk we were in. We were fighting for anything. So we protested the game and hoped that we would continue to win then and that we would have a shot at winning this one. But it’s all turned around on us.”
The Hawks, who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, desperately needed to win both games. They were among a half-dozen teams within three games of the final postseason spot in the East.
NBA commissioner David Stern ruled the Hawks were “grossly negligent” in keeping stats during the December contest, and also fined the team $50,000. Atlanta officials said it was an honest mistake and thought the league was too harsh in its punishment.
The protest was the first granted by the NBA since December 1982, when then-commissioner Larry O’Brien upheld a request for a replay by the San Antonio Spurs after their 137-132 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The teams finally finished the game in April 1983, with San Antonio winning 117-114. The Spurs won the regular game as well.
“Two for the price of one,” the Hawks’ Web site said, urging fans to come out for the doubleheader. “History will be made tonight.”
Back in December, the Hawks were leading 112-111 in overtime when O’Neal was called for a foul. The official scorers said it was the Miami center’s sixth foul, when actually it was only his fifth.
The mistake stemmed from a foul with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter that was called on Udonis Haslem but was mistakenly credited to O’Neal at the scoring table.
Al Horford made two free throws after O’Neal’s disputed foul. The Hawks were allowed to keep those points, giving them a 114-111 lead for the replay.
Taking into account that O’Neal had been traded and the Hawks dealt away four players for point Mike Bibby at the trade deadline, the league allowed both teams to use players acquired since the disputed game.
Shawn Marion, who came to Miami in the O’Neal trade, was in the Heat’s lineup, while the Hawks were able to use Bibby.
“I’m a little confused with all the rules,” Riley quipped. “I believe the NBA just made ‘em all up.”