The Lakers were down to five healthy and eligible players Wednesday night when center Robert Sacre picked up his sixth personal foul, fueling hope for a struggling Cleveland team that it would play the final 31/2 minutes with a man advantage.
It was merely a Sacre-tease.
An obscure NBA rule requiring each team to have five players on the floor nullified a Cavaliers power play. Sacre, though penalized with a technical foul, was allowed to remain in the game, and the Lakers won, 119-108.
Some of sports' most head-scratching moments stem from rules that are rarely applied, and plenty of managers, coaches and players have experienced the kind of confusion that surrounded the end of the Lakers-Cavaliers game.
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia is a rules expert who is rarely puzzled by the most convoluted of plays, but he was admittedly stumped during a game against Seattle a few years ago.
Caught in a rundown between second and third, the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki bolted toward the outfield grass, where the shortstop normally plays, and back toward the infield grass, a zig-zag that seemed in clear violation of a rule requiring him to be within three feet of the basepath.
But Suzuki was not ruled out immediately, giving a trailing runner ample time to advance to second base.
The reason umpires allowed Suzuki's serpentine route can be found in Rule 7.08 (a), which states a basepath is established "when the tag attempt occurs," and that a runner is out when he runs more than three feet away from his basepath "to avoid being tagged."
"Everyone assumes if you're out of the baseline, you're out," Scioscia said. "But the umpires said you can run wherever you want until the tag is being made. I lost that argument, but we still have that play on tape. We use it as a training tool."
A look at some other strange-but-true rules from the four major sports:
Through the wickets
Denver fans are still reeling over the botched snap that went over quarterback Peyton Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety that gave Seattle a 2-0 lead on the first play of the Super Bowl.
Had Manning been under center instead of in the shotgun formation, the safety could have been avoided. Under a seldom-invoked rule, a snap that goes through a quarterback's legs but is never touched by him is a dead ball.
The situation unfolded in a 2007 NFL game between Chicago and Philadelphia. Bears center Olin Kreutz snapped a ball that went through quarterback Brian Griese's legs. Eagles safety Sean Considine recovered, seemingly putting his team in position to take the lead.
But because Griese never touched the ball, referee Ed Hochuli called the play dead and penalized Chicago for a false start. The Bears went on to win, 16-9.
Fourth out required
A team has the bases loaded with one out, the manager calls for a suicide squeeze, and the bunt is popped up. The first baseman catches the ball and, after the runner sprinting home crosses the plate, tags first for a double play. The inning is over and the run doesn't count, right?
Wrong. Under baseball rules, the defensive team would have to appeal the play at third and tag the third-base bag before that runner is ruled out. If all nine fielders head to the dugout and cross the foul line, the inning is considered dead. The defensive team forfeits its right to appeal, and the run would count.
"We call it the fourth-out-of-an-inning rule," Scioscia said. "You have to be cognizant of the fact that if the runner scores before first base is tagged for the third out, then that run counts until you go tag third base."