Spurs Challenge Dramatic Ending

Times Staff Writer

Derek Fisher called it an opportunity worth waiting for. Phil Jackson called it incredible.

The Spurs are calling it illegal.

Within an hour of Fisher’s dramatic 18-foot jumper, the Spurs filed a protest with the league office, saying the clock started too late and Fisher’s winning shot shouldn’t count.

To recap the facts: There were 0.4 seconds left when Gary Payton inbounded the ball to Fisher. Fisher spun around, released the ball and made the shot, giving the Lakers a 74-73 victory over the Spurs.


All three referees -- Ron Garretson, Dan Crawford and Joe Forte -- have remote clock-starting devices on their belts. The referees immediately reviewed TV replays of the shot and ruled that Fisher had released the ball in time.

But a few minutes later, after the Lakers had danced off to their locker room, Spur General Manager R.C. Buford could be heard yelling from deep within the underbelly of SBC Center, in a video room that supplied various angles and replays. The clock, in Buford’s opinion, had apparently started too late.

Spur Coach Gregg Popovich agreed at his postgame news conference.

“I think it definitely started late,” he said. “Sometimes life’s tough.”

The Spurs then sent a written protest to the league.

“We think after looking at it in a bunch of different angles that the clock did not start in a timely manner,” Spur spokesman Tom James said. “We think there’s a pretty good case. We’re eager to see what the decision will be.”

Regardless, the Spurs were stunned.

“This game was cruel,” said Manu Ginobili, guarding Fisher on the play. “We were very focused on Kobe [Bryant] on the last play. It was really hard for me when Fisher’s shot went in because I was the guy guarding him.”

Seconds before the final play, during a Laker timeout, Spur guard Tony Parker and forward Malik Rose had their arms around each other on the sideline. They were still smiling at Tim Duncan’s shot as he staggered across the key, with Shaquille O’Neal right in front of him.

Duncan’s make gave the Spurs a 73-72 lead with 0.4 seconds left.

Then the Lakers came up with a staggering shot of their own.

“I don’t even want to look at the tape of that last play,” Parker said. “I really thought we had the game. We came back and Timmy made that awesome shot. I thought we won the game. I didn’t think Fisher had time to catch the ball, turn around and shoot it. We have to let this game go.”

The Spurs have little choice. They will board a mid-afternoon plane today for Los Angeles.

Game 6 is Saturday at Staples Center.

A year ago, the Spurs defeated the Lakers in Game 6 at Staples Center, 110-82. The Spurs won all four Game 6s in which they played last season, including three on the road, on the way to the NBA championship.

Popovich promised Saturday’s game plan won’t have anything to do with the final 0.4 seconds.

“I won’t even mention the last shot of the game,” Popovich said. “It won’t even be in our game preparation or anything like that. We’ll prepare for Game 6 in L.A. based on how we played during the game.”



NBA Rule Book


* No less than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an inbounds pass and then attempts a field goal.


* This guideline shall apply to any field goal attempted by a player after he receives an inbounds pass, other than what will be called, for this purpose, a “tip-in” or “alley oop.” A tip-in is defined as any action in which the ball is deflected, not controlled, by a player and then enters the basket ring.


* Regardless of when the horn or red light operates to signify the end of period, the officials will ultimately make the final decision whether to allow or disallow a successful field goal.