The Lakers have plenty of experience on their roster, including a head coach that has been around the NBA for 20 years. However, none of them have ever experienced a moment and decision quite like the one late in the team’s win over the Rockets on Tuesday.
In the closing minutes of the contest following a timeout, the officials brought together Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and Rockets head coach Stephen Silas for a lengthy discussion before ultimately announcing they were removing two points for the Lakers.
In their announcement to the arena and TV audience, the officials say they incorrectly gave Kent Bazemore two free throws under the assumption the Rockets were in the bonus around the 2:31 mark. During the timeout, they realized their mistake and took the points away despite nearly a full minute of game time having passed.
Kent Bazemore’s FTs have been erased from the play by play, too. Between 2:31 and 1:35, the scoreboard said the Lakers had 116 points. pic.twitter.com/f0Euyq0El6— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) November 3, 2021
Vogel nearly collapsed into full-body convulsions when told of the ruling:
Here's the bizarre decision late in the Lakers-Rockets game that led to the officials taking two points off the Lakers score pic.twitter.com/1zkak5Cglg— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 3, 2021
The Lakers nearly made the referee’s decision a far more impactful one with a near late-game collapse before narrowly hanging on for the win. But even with the victory, the team came away confused and annoyed about what had transpired.
“That’s definitely something the league has got to look at,” Vogel said. “I understand the mindset to get it right, but... it was their fourth foul and they gave us free throws. You’re only supposed to get free throws on the fifth foul, so we shoot the free throws and play resumes, and a couple possessions later they made a mistake, so they just take the points off the board.
"Once play resumes, you can’t correct that. You can’t correct it," Vogel continued. “The league’s got to look at that, because they can’t give us that possession back. Like if it was corrected at the time of the call, we get the ball on the side and it’s our ball... Once that goes away, you just take the points away and don’t give us the possession back, you can’t correct that at that point. So I’m very frustrated by that, the league has to look at that.”
It’s not entirely clear if the officials made the correct decision on the play. While rescinding incorrectly awarded free throws is a correct decision, the officials appear to have missed the window in which they could correct it.
Erroneously awarding free throws is a correctable error. Unfortunately, procedurally they did it correct per the rule book here. Look at item “e” and “f.” Obviously the league can change the rule after the season. pic.twitter.com/q2SgUWZ2NL— Michael Bynum (@michaelbynum) November 3, 2021
Alas, it wasn't discovered within the 24-second time period as the rule states. The Rockets scored five points before the error was corrected. Really strange play.— Bill Oram (@billoram) November 3, 2021
The Lakers’ lead was trimmed to just two points after the decision. While LeBron James capped off his incredible fourth quarter but putting distance back between the hosts and Houston, the team’s main complaint after the game was the possession they lost entirely.
“The scoreboard said four team fouls, which means it was the fifth, and so Baze shot two free throws,” Anthony Davis said. “And when they went back to look at it, it was only the fourth team foul. They put it up there right away, so it was really four, and so they took the two points away, but what me, Bron and coach were explaining to the refs was that ‘well, we lost a possession.’ We didn’t take the ball out or anything. We shot free throws, they take the points away, and now we just lose the entire possession, which could have cost us the game. They just said there is nothing they can do about it and stuff like that. So it’s a good thing it didn’t hurt us, but yeah, that was a funky situation.”
Fortunately, even if barely, the Lakers weren’t undone by the decision on Tuesday. The league’s response to the matter could be interesting, though, because the original call didn’t occur within the final two minutes, it may not be in a Last 2 Minute report on Wednesday.
Even with an explanation, though, it’s unlikely that any of this will entirely make sense, nor will it likely be something the Lakers or Rockets will ever see again. As the Lakers noted, at least this frustrating one-off didn't burn them.