You've got to hand it to the New York Knicks: They always find a way to infuse something exciting and unique into their often head-scratching and abysmal play. Friday night's addition to the contemptible canon? Having an impressive go-ahead alley-oop reverse dunk waved off because its finisher's head prevented the ball from going all the way through the net.
Sound confusing and weird? Well, let's go to the video tape, with the Knicks and Orlando Magic tied at 113 with just over a minute remaining in overtime at Amway Arena:
Knicks point guard Raymond Felton dribbled across the timeline, checked by Magic defender E'Twaun Moore. New York center Tyson Chandler and All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony came up above the 3-point arc to give Felton screening options; the point guard chose to drive right, dribbling wide around Anthony's screen toward the basket. While Moore did his best to get over the screen and stay on Felton's hip, the penetration drew the attention of Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who stepped to his left and turned his attention to Felton to offer help on the drive. Enter Chandler, who's snuck in behind Vucevic, pointed to the air and invited Felton to toss a lob. The pass went up, Chandler leapt to catch it, he turned in mid-air, and threw the alley-oop down with a reverse dunk. A nice bit of offensive misdirection and execution, and a two-point New York lead with 1:07 remaining in extra time.
Right? Wrong. From Scott Cacciola of the New York Times:
The entire sequence lasted less than two seconds, yet it provided the perfect summation of everything that had gone wrong for the Knicks this season.
Tyson Chandler was trying to finish off an alley-oop dunk in overtime against the Orlando Magic on Friday night, and he hung on the rim for a beat too long. The ball caromed off his head and bounced back out of the basket.
The officials waved it off as a result of offensive goaltending, but it was so much more than that. It was ridiculous. It was improbable. It was the Knicks once again getting in their own way, and it was a mistake that cost them dearly [...]
That's right: After the ball bounced off Chandler's head and came back out through the top of the hoop, referee Dick Bavetta promptly signaled no basket, leading to quite a bit of angry responses from the men in white, blue and orange, and quite a bit of confusion that persisted beyond the final buzzer.
"[Bavetta] said if the ball does go through the cylinder and hits a player’s head, it’s automatic offensive goaltending," Chandler said after the game, according to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. "I thought the rule was different, but I guess I’m wrong."
To be fair to Chandler, it's not a rule we tend to see invoked very frequently, but a trip to the NBA's official rule book suggests that Bavetta was in the right.
Section I of Rule No. 11, which governs basket interference and goaltending, concludes its list of the kinds of plays that constitute a violation with sub-section i: "[When you] touch the rim, net or ball while the ball is in the net, preventing it from clearing the basket." Chandler's head does touch the ball while it's in the net and prevent it from clearing the basket; he's also touching both the rim and the net while the ball is in the net. It seems weird, but it's the rule; frustrating as it was for Knicks fans to watch, wiping away those two points was the right call.
The Magic didn't make New York pay immediately, failing to push ahead at home in the final minute of overtime after an Arron Afflalo turnover and a missed layup by Vucevic just before the buzzer to keep the score knotted at 113 and prompt a second overtime period. They dominated double-OT, though, with rookie guard Victor Oladipo providing two-way energy and explosiveness that the gassed Knicks, who missed their next six shots after Chandler's interference, just couldn't match.
The No. 2 overall draft pick scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished two assists after the end of the fourth quarter, including an overtime layup that tied the game at 113 before Chandler's header, an and-one layup that gave Orlando a five-point lead with just under 90 seconds remaining in double-OT, and an emphatic and-one dunk along the baseline that made it a two-possession game with 30 seconds left.
Oladipo finished with 30 points, a career-high 14 assists, nine rebounds and two steals in 49 minutes in Orlando's 129-121 win, making him just the 16th player since 1985 to put up 30-14-9-2. That list includes four Hall of Famers (Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Gary Payton), four future Hall of Famers (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul), six All-Stars (Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Jeff Hornacek, Kevin Johnson, Rajon Rondo, Reggie Theus) and perpetual odd/amazing/unlike element Nate Robinson. Not bad company for the rook to find himself in. The Knicks, however, find themselves in all sorts of bad company after losing a game they'd led by 14 points with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter before abandoning the pretense of defense and getting just cold enough to offer Orlando the chance to heat up.
They have now lost four of five, seven of 10, and 12 of 18 games to fall to 21-34, 4 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, with both the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers ahead of them. They have dropped six winnable games in that stretch — to the playoff-caliber Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers, as well as to the Magic, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, four of the NBA's six worst teams. A Saturday night matchup with the reeling Hawks, who have lost eight straight games to fall to the very edge of the Eastern playoff case, might have seemed like an opportunity for the Knicks to make up some ground, New York will now face Atlanta not only at the end of a four-games-in-five-nights road trip after a late-night flight from Florida to Georgia, but will do so having ridden their main rotation players exceptionally hard of late.
Anthony, who led all scorers with 44 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and distributed four assists, played more than 50 minutes on Friday, and has logged more than 132 minutes over the past four days. J.R. Smith went nearly 49 minutes on Friday, scoring 10 points on 4 for 14 shooting, and has played nearly 123 minutes on this four-day road trip; Felton (just under 45 minutes in Orlando) and Chandler (just over 42) are both coming off season-high minute-totals, and have had their fair share of wear-and-tear injury issues, both this season and in years past. It's likely that they'll see heavy minutes again on Saturday, though, with Kenyon Martin, Andrea Bargnani and Iman Shumpert sidelined with injuries, little-used reserves Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih reportedly moments away from having their contracts bought out, and even-less-used reserves Cole Aldrich and Toure' Murry seemingly Krazy Glued to the bench by head coach Mike Woodson.
Add it all up, and the stage seems set for an already bad scene to get worse in Atlanta on Saturday. All that remains is figuring out just what sort of "haven't seen that before" bit of misery Woodson and company can pull out of their evidently bottomless bag of tricks to keep all this losing fresh and interesting.
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