Heat, Hawks to replay final minute of Dec. 19 game later this year

Updated: January 12, 2008, 10:52 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- For the first time since 1982, the NBA is sending two teams back to the court for a do-over.

The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat must replay the final 51.9 seconds of their game last month because the official scorer ruled incorrectly that Shaquille O'Neal fouled out, the league said Friday.

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 miserable record.

Protested Games Upheld

Instances in NBA history when the protest of a game has been granted:

Matchup: Heat at Hawks
Date: Dec. 19, 2007
Scenario: The Heat protested because, with 51.9 seconds remaining in OT, the Hawks' scoring table personnel incorrectly disqualified Miami's Shaquille O'Neal, asserting that a foul committed by O'Neal was his sixth of the game (it was only his fifth). Misstep: The Hawks' official scorer mistakenly attributed to O'Neal a foul at 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter that was actually called against the Heat's Udonis Haslem.
Ruling: The protest will result is the ending of the game being replayed.

Matchup: Lakers at Spurs
Date: Nov. 30, 1982
Scenario: The Spurs claimed misapplication of the lane violation rule with 3 seconds left.
Ruling: Protest was upheld on grounds that the error clearly affected the outcome of the game.

Matchup: Nets at 76ers
Date: Nov. 8, 1978
Scenario: Nets claimed misapplication of technical foul rule in second quarter resulting in four unwarranted free throws and ejection of their head coach.
Ruling: Protest upheld on grounds that the error clearly affected the outcome of the game.

Matchup: Celtics at Lakers
Date: Dec. 8, 1954
Scenario: The Celtics claimed that the final two free throws by Vern Mikkelsen were not valid because they came on a foul committed after the game ended.
Ruling: Commissioner Maurice Podoloff upheld the referee's ruling.
-- Compiled by ESPN Research

"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 Stern's decision by losing to Washington 102-98 in overtime.

The NBA said the replay will be held before the teams' next scheduled game: March 8 in Atlanta. 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, where the Heat played the Hornets. "I can wake up tomorrow knowing there's one less loss."

The Hawks also were fined $50,000, with commissioner David 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 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 time 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.

Bottom line is we're here to try to make the playoffs. You've got to live with it. We'll face those 51 seconds in March.

--Hawks coach Mike Woodson

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 a terrible, going into Friday's game last in the Eastern Conference with a record that is now 8-27 instead of 8-28, the decision could have a profound impact on Atlanta's hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Losing the win over Miami dropped the Hawks to 15-16, leaving them with the eighth -- and final -- seed 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," said coach Mike Woodson, whose team faced the Washington Wizards on Friday night. "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 the 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, ending at the time of Horford's free throws.

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.

Miami's ball.

"It's always something with the Hawks," Atlanta's Tyronn Lue said. "It's a bad business, man, but we'll get through it."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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