CLEVELAND -- The outcome of the Los Angeles Lakers' 119-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday will not matter in the long run -- both teams were a lousy 16-32 coming into the game -- but it will become a night to remember another way.
It was the moment many people in the basketball world first became aware of Rule No. 3, Section I, Part A of the NBA's rulebook.
"Each team shall consist of five players. No team shall be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
Ignore the archaic language for a second (I could do with never having to hear the word "shall" again after that paragraph) and you'll find the reason why Robert Sacre (aka "said player") was allowed to stay in the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, even though he just picked up his sixth personal foul, which normally would foul a player out of the game.
If it was new to you, don't be ashamed. It was new to the Lakers, too.
Did coach Mike D'Antoni know what was going to happen when Sacre picked up his sixth foul?
"Yeah ," D'Antoni said with his voice trailing off and his eyes letting reporters know he wasn't being truthful. "Not really. But it’s a nice rule."
"I never knew when you fouled out, you could go back in," 11-year veteran Chris Kaman said. "I never knew that was a rule. So, I had my shoes untied and I was like lying down on the bench because we had like a really long bench. There was like 30 feet of extra space."
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and trainer Gary Vitti, who began their respective NBA careers in 1981-82, both said they had never seen anything like that before.
Said Jordan Farmar: "I didn't even know half the rules that just went into effect right now."
"I've never heard of it," Steve Blake added. "It's crazy. But it was a fun way to finish it off."
It hadn't happened in nearly four full years, when Devean George, who was playing in what ended up being the last game of his NBA career, fouled out in the Golden State Warriors' 122-116 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on April 14, 2010, but was able to stay in the game as one of just five healthy bodies the Warriors had at that point. Just like the Lakers on Wednesday, Golden State started that game with only eight eligible players.
L.A. went from eight to seven when Nick Young did not return in the second half after twisting his left knee. They went from seven down to six when Kaman fouled out with 8:29 remaining in the fourth quarter. They went from six down to five when Farmar exited the game with 4:56 left in the fourth and shut it down for the night and applied a bulky ice wrap to his left calf, which was cramping and causing tightness in his left hamstring.
As the body count started to dwindle, the players started doing the math and Farmar gave specific instructions to Sacre.
"I told him, 'Don't foul!'" Farmar said. "'Whatever you do, don't foul!' He said, 'I got you brother.'"
Sacre ended up getting saddled with his fifth foul less than a minute later, with 4:03 to go.
At first, the Lakers thought that if Sacre fouled out, Farmar was going to have to go back in the game on his bum wheel and just limp around as L.A. scrambled to hold on to what was once a 29-point lead that was cut down to six in the fourth quarter.
"Farmar could have just stood out there somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been the best thing," D'Antoni said.
Then the Lakers went as far as to summon Steve Nash to change into his uniform and come from the locker room to the bench, even though he had been a scratch for the night as L.A. was playing the second leg of a back-to-back.
"I wasn’t going to do Nash, for sure," D'Antoni said. "He couldn’t do it. That would have been unfair to him."
Kaman found the 39-year-old Nash coming to the rescue pretty comical.
"Then Nash came out," Kaman said. "Like, ‘What are you going to do, Steve?’ He was like, ‘I’ve been warming up the whole time.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, right.’"
Farmar said Nash was well aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.
"They went and got Steve Nash out of retirement like Willis Reed out of the locker room," Farmar said.
What did Nash tell his teammates when he showed up ready for duty with just a couple minutes left in the game?
"He pulled his hammy running out there, that's what he said," Farmar said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, the theater of the absurd continued with Blake changing his shorts in front of the Lakers' bench with 15,205 fans watching in the stands.
"I guess I had blood," Blake said. "I had like three cuts all over my body. I had blood everywhere. So, I had blood on my shorts and I had to take those off and put new ones on."
The unthinkable happened when Sacre got his sixth foul shortly thereafter, but, surprisingly, was allowed to stay in the game.
"I'm just like in my mind like, 'Oh, dang," Sacre said. "Here we go again."
Sacre thought the Lakers were going to have to play short-handed for the game's final minutes.
"Four-on-five would have been unique to watch," Sacre said with a laugh. "It would have been definitely unique to watch. But, I'm glad it didn't happen that way."
In the end, the Lakers outscored the Cavs by one in the final 3:32 after Sacre's sixth. They won with Farmar finishing with 21 points and eight assists in his first game back in more than a month; Blake dropping in 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists for just the second triple-double of his career; rookie Ryan Kelly pumping in a career-high 26 points while playing a lot of center; Wes Johnson racking up 20 points and nine rebounds while playing a lot of power forward; and L.A. benefiting from a rule it didn't even know existed.
"This has been crazy all year," Young said. "Tonight sums up how everything has been."
Said Sacre: "It’s whacky. It’s a unique situation, but now that everyone knows the rules, now we can adjust from there."