Tim Duncan's role in the Spurs' final play of the fourth quarter of the Spurs' Game 6 loss to the Heat could have set off a firestorm of controversy if the Spurs won in regulation. The NBA has confirmed that Duncan, in fact, was illegally on the court.
As first reported by Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports, Duncan, illegally entered the game while officials reviewed Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining and was on the court when Tony Parker missed an off-balance, fadeaway jumper at the end of regulation.
From Yahoo! Sports:
Teams are not allowed to substitute players during referee reviews, because reviews aren’t technically a dead ball situation.
Think about that. Tim Duncan could have capped a legendary career with a game-winning shot to win the 2013 NBA Finals, and it wouldn’t have even been legal. And there wouldn’t have been anything the referees – considering the NBA’s current in-game rules regarding mulligans – could have done about it.
If Parker made the shot, and the Spurs won Game 6, Duncan's illegal substitution likely would have led the Heat to file a protest, and the results could have been historic, as CBSSports.com's Ken Berger imagines:
If the Heat had won the protest, the Heat and Spurs -- and all the rest of us -- would've had to reconvene in Miami to pick up Game 6 from the point where the rule was misapplied with 5.2 seconds left and the score tied at 95.
The nightmare scenario, of course, would've been Duncan himself winning the game with a basket or putback, or at the foul line. But even if it wasn't Duncan who'd scored, any San Antonio basket in that situation would've resulted in a Miami protest and, quite possibly, a do-over.
Just in case you're wondering, there are no provisions in the rulebook for Miami to complain about the error on the spot and for the officials to huddle and wave off a basket if San Antonio had scored. The issue would've needed to be addressed through the protest procedure.
If the Heat had lost in overtime, they still could've filed a protest but would've had little, if any, chance of winning it. It has to be demonstrated that the misapplication of the rule directly influenced the outcome of the game. The only way for that to have happened in this case was San Antonio scoring on the final possession of regulation and winning the game -- and its fifth championship -- only to have to return at some point later and try to do it again.
If you can't believe you're reading this, join the club. I can't believe I'm writing it, either.