In Saturday night’s game between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, something happened that was absolutely astonishing. The Heat was ahead by four points with 3.6 seconds to go in the contest after LeBron James converted a pair of free throws. Boston’s Gerald Wallace made a layup with 1.6 seconds to go, cutting the lead to 110-108. Wallace then fouled Dwyane Wade exactly one second later, the clock showing 0:oo.6. Six tenths of a second.
So the scene was set: 6/10ths of a second to go, Miami up two and D Wade at the free throw line, with two shots. Obviously, if he made both, the game would be over - unless someone from Miami would foul a Boston on a desperation three-point shot, and the shot would go in. That scenario would send the game into overtime. But Wade missed it so that prospect became moot. What did occur might have been even more amazing.
Now two possibilities remain: One is that Wade makes the second free throw, putting the Heat up three. The other is, of course, that he misses. Usually, missing a shot isn’t considered clutch or else there would be a whole lot more heroes and quite a few less wannabes. But . . . in this particular situation, with only o.6 ticks left, consider what happens with a miss.
In the NBA, there was a rule put into effect during the 1977-78 season which is still in the book (my feeling, and that of others is that it should be immediately adopted for the college game but that’s another story). The rule reads: “During the last two minutes of regulation or overtime, if a team requests a timeout immediately after getting possession, they shall have the option of putting the ball into play at midcourt or at the out-of-bounds spot.”
What went through D. Wade’s mind at that juncture in the game was the part of the rule that said, “immediately after getting possession,” and here’s why. If he made the free throw, Boston would call time out and be able to move the ball to midcourt with 6/10ths of a second still on the clock, enough time to catch and shoot (the rule is a player needs a minimum of 3/10ths of a second to catch and shoot).
Although the Celtics’ coaching staff would have told the referee they wanted to take a TO “immediately after getting possession,” there still would have been some time between rebounding the ball, calling time out, the referee signaling the timekeeper and the human element of starting the clock (upon getting possession) and stopping it (upon hearing the whistle/seeing the signal). Even if the referees’ whistles were connected to the clock (I have no idea if that was the case in this game), there is still time lost between the official hearing/seeing the request for the TO and blowing the whistle. If the amount of time left in the game was 1 or 2/10ths of a second, the Celtics would not have had an opportunity to catch and shoot, only enough time for a tip. IN any case, there would have been less than 6/10ths, further decreasing the Celtics’ chances to win.
To show that anyone can make a mistake - even someone as talented and intelligent a basketball player as Dwyane Wade - read on. He, wisely, decided to intentionally miss the second FT. But, he simply fired the ball off the backboard and it ricocheted back without touching the rim. The result of such a shot is the same as an air ball since the definition of an air ball is not a shot that only “hits air” but a shot that doesn’t hit the rim.
Naturally, Murphy’s Law happened to the Heat as they took the ball at midcourt, Gerald Wallace passed it to Jeff Green who knocked down the game winning three-pointer as time expired, giving the Celts a remarkable upset victory. Remarkable, not impossible because as Audrey Hepburn once said:
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, ‘I’m possible.’ “