By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
It was all going so well for Olympiacos in their Top 16 clash with Montepaschi Siena. Their talisman Vasilis Spanoulis had reeled off five quick points to put them up 72-67. Tomas Ress was somehow allowed a quick dunk, but they still had the ball, a three point lead and after a couple of quick fouls given by Siena, baseline possession with only 26.6 seconds left to hold out. After that, in a cacophony of bad strategic fouling, a missed layup and a bizarre clock malfunction, everything went wrong.
Let’s take each event on its own terms, as each one built upon the last, climaxing in a calamitous 74-72 defeat for the Reds.
26.6 remaining: Spanoulis tries to inbound the ball to Stratos Perperoglou on the sideline, probably hoping to hold onto the ball and force Siena to foul. Although 2.6 seconds is enough to get off a game-tying three point shot, Siena wouldn’t have wanted to let Olympiacos run down the shot clock. They do a great job denying the first option, but Acie Law finds himself open under the rim, Spanoulis gets him the ball and it looks like the layup will ice the game for the home team. Wrong. Law somehow blows the lay-in, the ball bobbles around and Davis Moss secures the rebound.
This is an underrated aspect of the strategic fouling that Siena deployed. Moss and Kangur fouled immediately following inbounds plays in order to rack up the foul count and allow Siena to keep the option to send their opponents to the free throw line if needed. Kangur’s foul resulted in a more difficult baseline-out-of-bounds play, which seems unfair for the team that receives the foul. It’s an oft-mentioned idea to allow the team in possession the option of taking free throws or taking the ball out of bounds in the final minute, but perhaps a less dramatic but more subtle change to the rules would be the allow the team in possession to choose SLOB over BLOB, or vice versa as they wish.
Meanwhile, as soon as Moss grabbed the ball, Bobby Brown, sprints down the floor with his hand in the air. Moss outlets the ball to him, then Pero Antic does something that makes his shot selection look like a model of sound basketball intelligence.
19.3 seconds: Antic, with his team up three and the shot clock turned off, makes the right play at absolutely the wrong time. Brown heaves the ball in general direction of the rim the millisecond after he feels Antic’s hand on his arm, and although it took the ref an eternity to blow his whistle, the call was correct. This wasn’t a Kevin Durant-esque rip-through move to buy three undeserved foul shots, it was just a ridiculous and impulsive play by Antic.
However, this doesn’t, to my mind, discredit the strategy of fouling-up-three. Antic just picked the wrong time to foul. Brown had nobody ahead of him to rebound the ball and was on the move. He has hit some incredible shots this season and has a deserved reputation for being a gunner, but if he takes and makes the three in that situation, you still have more than enough time to execute a game winner.
Brown hits all three from the line, like a boss/All-Euroleaguer. Tie game, 72-a-piece. We haven’t even gotten to the best/worst part.
10.0 seconds: Spanoulis has the ball near midcourt, Brown and Hackett come to trap. The inexorable march of time, together with knowledge of our own mortality is one of the constants of life that defines our existence, as well as the conclusion of a basketball game. The clock operator at SEF decided to interrupt this linear progression to the inevitable and pause the game clock at precisely ten seconds, for at least three seconds before it continues ticking down. Kyle Hines misses a contested lay-up, for once his lack of size betraying him, and Siena has a chance to win.
1.7 seconds (game time)/ approximately minus-2 seconds real time: Brown once again beats the Olympiacos team down the floor, scoring the most uncontested game winning layup since this happened. What is it about open lanes and controversial endings? Acie Law’s three point attempt is blocked by Hackett, Siena wins 74-72. But it is clear that the game winner should not have counted. So, what will, and should, be done?
Other than a thorough investigation into what caused the error, absolutely nothing.
If this happened at the Palaestra in Siena, there may have been a very strong argument for replaying the game. There is precedent for this both in ULEB-organised competition and in the NBA although in both of these examples, crucially, the clock error benefitted the home team.
If Hines had made the shot, Siena would certainly have protested, as they would have been unfairly denied the chance to respond. No evidence has come to light to suggest conspiracy rather than incompetence, but either way it is impossible to justify giving Olympiacos the chance to benefit from an error made by their own organisation. Nevertheless, the Piraeus team is understood to have submitted an official protest over the affair.
At the time of writing on Sunday afternoon, there is no word out of Euroleague headquarters in Barcelona, although they are expected to issue a statement on Monday. Siena’s General Manager Ferdinando Minucci rates the chances of anything changing at less than 10%. To allow the game to be replayed would create a clear incentive for ‘malfunction’ no matter how unlikely it would be for a team to risk deliberate sabotage. The clock is linked via radio signal to the refs’ whistles and an inadvertent signal from one of these devices is thought to be the most likely explanation for the momentary pause.
The actual cause may never be fully discovered, but one thing Olympiacos can change is their ability to foul strategically, make open layups and get back in transition. If they sort out these issues, they still have a great chance to make the playoffs and defend their title in London.
As for Bobby Brown, if he can make time stand still, maybe he’s an all-Euroleague player after all?