Thanks to a host of injuries and multiple disqualifications due to fouls, the Lakers triggered a rarely-used NBA rule for failing to have five eligible players during their 119-108 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Let's unpack the carnage piece by piece.
Although L.A. has 14 players on its roster, coach Mike D'Antoni had only eight players available on Wednesday because Kobe Bryant (knee), Pau Gasol (groin), Jodie Meeks (ankle), Jordan Hill (neck) and Xavier Henry (knee) were all out injured, and Steve Nash (back/nerves) was being held out for rest because the Lakers were on the second night of a back-to-back. The Lakers did have a 15th man on their roster earlier this week, but the team opted to part ways with Manny Harris after his second 10-day contract expired.
D'Antoni's rotation kept dwindling from there, shrinking from eight men down to seven when Nick Young suffered a knee injury during the second quarter and did not return. The number of available Lakers was then reduced from seven to five when Chris Kaman fouled out early in the fourth quarter and Jordan Farmar suffered a leg cramp later in the period. Then, disaster struck. With no available reserve players, Robert Sacre picked up his sixth foul, which would usually trigger a disqualification, at the 3:31 mark of the fourth quarter.
Time for four-on-five, right? Not quite. NBA teams are not allowed to take the court with less than five players, so a little-known rule came into effect.
Rule No. 3, Section I of the league's rulebook states: "No team may be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
The referees therefore allowed Sacre to remain in the game and correctly assessed a technical foul to the Lakers and awarded a free throw to the Cavaliers following his sixth foul. The second-year big man managed to play the rest of the game without picking up another foul so no further damage was done by L.A.'s lack of eligible bodies. The Lakers were leading 111-101 at the time of Sacre's final foul and were able to hang on for their first victory since Jan. 19, snapping a seven-game losing streak.
"I've never seen this situation before," Gasol wrote on Twitter. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
At one point late in the third quarter, Kaman could be seen fully stretched out on the Lakers' otherwise empty bench.
During the game's closing minutes, Nash briefly looked like he would enter the game, despite the plan to sit him out. Instead, D'Antoni stayed the course by continuing to play Sacre.
"It was interesting to say the least," D'Antoni said of his late-game predicament, according to Lakers.com.
Making the Lakers' victory all the more remarkable? Steve Blake registered a triple-double (11 points on 2-for-7 shooting, 10 rebounds and 15 assists) even though he was suffering from a ruptured ear drum during L.A.'s loss to Minnesota on Tuesday.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26 points (on 8-for-16 shooting) and added six rebounds in 42 minutes for the Lakers, who led by as many as 29 points before their second half war of attrition. Wesley Johnson added 20 points (on 8-for-15 shooting) and nine rebounds.
C.J. Miles led the Cavaliers with a game-high 27 points (on 7-for-15 shooting), three rebounds and three assists. Anderson Varejao chipped in 15 points (on 7-for-16 shooting), 13 rebounds and five assists in a losing effort. Cleveland finished the game with starters Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Luol Deng on the bench.
L.A. improved to 17-32 with the win and will have one day off before they visit Philadelphia to play the Sixers on Friday. Cleveland dropped to 16-33 with the loss.