For first time since '82, NBA upholds protest requiring replay
ATLANTA -- For the first time since 1982, the NBA is sending two teams back to the court for a do-over.
The Hawks won 117-111 at home in overtime Dec. 19, but strike that one from the books. For now, playoff-contending Atlanta has one less win, while the Heat have one less loss on their hapless record.
"We're human. We make mistakes," Hawks owner Michael Gearon Jr. said. "There certainly wasn't anything malicious about it. We have one of the most senior scoring staffs in the league. They're good. It happened. There's not much we can do about it."
Making it a truly miserable day: Atlanta followed up NBA commissioner David Stern's decision by losing to Washington 102-98 in overtime.
The NBA said the replay will be held before Miami's next visit to Atlanta on March 8. Play will start from the time after O'Neal's disputed sixth foul, with the Hawks leading 114-111.
"Wait a minute! I picked up a win today, or lost a loss," Heat coach Pat Riley quipped in New Orleans before a 114-88 loss to the Hornets. "I can wake up tomorrow knowing there's one less loss."
The Hawks also were fined $50,000, with Stern ruling the team was "grossly negligent" in failing to address the mistake.
The protest is the first granted by the NBA since December 1982, when then-NBA 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 previous month.
The Spurs and Lakers finally finished the game in April 1983, with San Antonio winning 117-114.
The Hawks were caught off guard by Stern's ruling, feeling he was trying to send a message in light of another scoring mistake that occurred in Atlanta early last season.
"Come on," Gearon said. "You can see how many times coaches, assistant coaches and trainers walk up to (the scoring table) during a game. They're walking up there for a reason. They're asking questions, whether it's confirming timeout or points or other issues."
Team spokesman Arthur Triche said no one on the stat crew had been replaced, but changes have been made in the way they operate. Two people run the official book at courtside, while the four-person computer stat crew is 26 rows above the court in another press location. The two crews are supposed to check with each other if any discrepancies come up.
"While it was an honest mistake made on the table, there was a communication breakdown in not following through the procedures that are in place," Triche said. "That's why we're in this predicament."
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.
"That's crazy, man! I don't even think I can play because I fouled out," Atlanta's Josh Smith said. "David Stern is the head honcho, so if he says we've got to play another 51 seconds that's what we've got to play. Bottom line."
Stern ruled the Hawks "failed to follow league-mandated scoring procedures and failed to respond effectively when the members of the statisticians' crew noticed the mistake," the NBA said in a statement.
Said Haslem: "I'm not the kind of guy who likes to argue or cry over spilled milk, but we've got a second chance so we'll try to make the best of it."
While the Heat are having an awful season, dropping back to 8-28 before the day was done to remain last in the Eastern Conference, the decision could have a profound impact on Atlanta's hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The Hawks went from .500 to two games under (15-17) in one day, though they still hold the eighth -- and final -- spot in the East. Imagine if they lose the replay, then miss the playoffs by one game.
"Bottom line is we're here to try to make the playoffs," coach Mike Woodson said. "You've got to live with it. We'll face those 51 seconds in March."
The NBA requires the official scorers to coordinate foul calls with the rest of the stat crew during every timeout. That apparently didn't happen in this case, resulting in the mistake going unnoticed until after the game, when the Hawks put out revised boxes showing O'Neal with six fouls.
"Other than filing the protest, I haven't given it any thought since then. It wasn't until everybody started doing some research on all of the things that went on behind the scenes," Riley said.
"I don't really know what the checks and balances are for fouls and how they're done. I think the league felt we probably deserved an opportunity to go back and play the last 51 seconds."
Especially because this involved Atlanta, where another statistical problem occurred just last season.
On Nov. 24, 2006, the official scorer failed to credit Toronto's T.J. Ford with a basket that would have given the Raptors a late tie and an opportunity to change the outcome of a 97-93 loss.
"Because of this conduct by Atlanta's personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as 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," the NBA statement said.
On the NBA's official Web site, those final 51 seconds have already been wiped from the books. The Dec. 19 schedule shows 12 games as finals, but the one in Atlanta is still in progress. The box score and play-by-play are on hold.
Al Horford hit two free throws after O'Neal's foul to put the Hawks up 114-111. That's where the game will resume.
"It's always something with the Hawks," Atlanta's Tyronn Lue said. "It's a bad business, man, but we'll get through it."
On the Web:
NBA official site: www.nba.com
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans and AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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