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WNBA acknowledges mistake, but error still costly

In real time, it just happened so fast.

With 1.5 seconds on the clock in Sunday's Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Minnesota's Maya Moore deflected a Noelle Quinn pass intended for Phoenix teammate Brittney Griner. Moore and Quinn scrambled for possession. Moore ended up with the ball and, after Quinn was whistled for a foul, on the free throw line. Moore drained a foul shot to sweep defending WNBA champion Phoenix out of the playoffs and move Minnesota into the WNBA Finals.

Mercury forward Monique Currie called it an "imaginary foul." Griner told the Arizona Republic it was a "horrible call." Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, measured but firm in her postgame news conference, said the game should have been decided in overtime, not by an official's whistle.

And on Monday morning, the WNBA agreed. The league officially acknowledged a mistake, issuing a statement that no foul had been committed, that official Amy Bonner's call should have been a no-call.

"I thought it was very much incidental contact. Whether it's the first five seconds of the game or the last, it was incidental and the whistle should not have been blown." ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo

ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo -- who covered the game with ESPN play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco -- said the league did the right thing in acknowledging the mistake.

"When it first happened, Ryan and I were both surprised the foul was called," Lobo said Monday. "Ryan immediately said, 'That was an aggressive whistle.' And I was immediately taken aback."

On press row, where I was seated, there were no monitors, so I had no immediate access to replays. Plus, the controversial play occurred in front of the scorer's table, and my view from press row, about three-quarters of the way up the lower bowl at center court, was partially obstructed.

But Lobo and ESPN's broadcast crew had immediate access to the replay.

"Sometimes the truck will have numerous angles, but in this case there was just one angle and we looked at it in slow motion," Lobo said. "And when I saw it, I thought it was very much incidental contact. Whether it's the first five seconds of the game or the last, it was incidental and the whistle should not have been blown."

At the end of the game, after Moore nailed the first free throw and then missed the second to burn the rest of the time off the clock, boos from the crowd rained down on the officials as Minnesota celebrated.

Inside the Phoenix locker room, Quinn was in tears, telling the Republic, "I didn't touch her."

Griner had a few more words to share.

"I don't care. Say whatever, it was a horrible call," Griner said to the Republic. "It's very frustrating how it happened. It's very frustrating for a ref to call a call like that at the end of the game. ... There were a lot of calls, but that call stands out the most. Horrible."

Lobo said that given the context of the time of the game and the stakes involved, the call was "stunning."

"To the naked eye," she said, "I was very surprised. And when I saw the replay, I was even more so."

And now, we'll never know what might have happened had the game gone to overtime. Would we have ended up exactly where we are, with Minnesota heading to the Finals for the fourth time in five years after sweeping the series? Would Phoenix, playing without leading scorer DeWanna Bonner, who had fouled out with 38.7 seconds to go, have been able to hold off Moore -- who set a career playoff record with 40 points in the game -- and the Lynx in overtime to extend the series to a third game in Minneapolis?

Which leads to yet another question: What are the Mercury supposed to do with the information they have now? It's no doubt very small consolation as the players returned to team headquarters Monday to do their exit interviews, clean out their lockers and go home until next summer, their quest to repeat as league champions officially ending on an error.

The Mercury said Monday they will not issue any statement in response to the league's acknowledgement. The Lynx also have no plans to respond.

The WNBA posted the video of the play on its website and sent it out to national media, clearly looking to get out in front of the controversy. There has been no immediate decision about whether the Mercury players and coaches will face fines from the league for criticism of the officiating.

Lobo, who tweeted immediately after the game that the call should not have been made, said she heard from Mercury and Lynx fans alike via Twitter.

"The Mercury fans were obviously unhappy," she said, "and even the Lynx fans said they never want to see a game end this way."

Lobo said she can't remember the WNBA issuing a statement like this before, acknowledging an error that ultimately denied a team a chance to play for a championship.

"It was the right thing to do, but then it's like, 'OK, now what?' I mean, good for the league, but it doesn't really change anything.

"At the same time, you don't want anything to overshadow Maya's amazing performance or the Lynx's great charge through the playoffs."