Highway Robbery In The NBA

In more than 20 years of following professional basketball, I've never seen anything like this. The Philadelphia 76ers had seemingly beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers 90-89. Time had expired. The Sixers were in their locker room celebrating. But stop the presses! The referees had — after reviewing the video and discussing the situation — ruled that Devin Brown was fouled with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. The Philly players returned to the court to watch Brown calmly sink both 'throws. Game over (again). Cleveland wins, 91-90.

What a cruel twist of fate for the Sixers and their fans. (Did I mention it was "Fan Appreciation Night" in Philadelphia?) When is a win not really a win? When you're playing against David Stern's golden boy LeBron James, that's when. And that fact was a jagged pill for Andre Iguodala to swallow: "You feel like you just got seriously slapped in the face. It was like we had the 'W' and it was marked off." Yeah. "Marked off" is one way to put it. "Stolen in the NBA-equivalent of a violent mugging" is another. But before I say anything else, you should really watch the tape:

Was Brown fouled? Sure. Samuel Dalembert got him with the body. Although let's be honest, how often are fouls like that called in end-of-game situations? Here's a hint: Never. Although I guess that should be amended to "almost never" now. Of course, you could argue that officials should make the right call regardless of when it happens and who's involved, and I'd agree with you. But if that's really what they were trying to do, they should have called LeBron for traveling well before Brown got fouled. Seriously. Go back and watch the video again. King James takes three full steps before the ball got batted into Brown's hands.

Did the refs just miss it? Or was somebody clicking madly away at The Stern Button? In general, I hate conspiracy theories. They're bad for any sport, and most of the time they're just smoke and mirrors, angry fans venting because their team lost. But man ... this one is more than a little fishy. The video review, a tough call to decide the game after the final buzzer had sounded ... I could almost let those things go if LeBron hadn't taken a stroll to China to set of the chain of events. It's just, well, wow.

And you'd better believe there were playoff implications:

Cleveland: The loss-turned-win allowed them to clinch home-court advantage against Washington in the first round. And they way they've been playing lately — and considering the fact that LeBron's still dealing with a cranky back — they need every advantage they can get right now.

Philadelphia: The win-turned-loss dropped them from a tie for sixth place into the seventh spot. This means they have to face the Detroit Pistons in the first round. And frankly, if you covered a baby in raw hamburger and dropped it into a cage full of hungry, rabid dogs, I'd sooner bet on that baby coming out on top than I would on the Sixers making it to the second round. Then I'd ask you why the hell you're torturing babies like that. What are you, some kind of sicko?

Toronto: Had Philly won last night, the Raptors would have had to either win in Chicago on Wednesday or hope that the Sixers lost in Charlotte. Instead, they now have sole possession of the sixth seed and a first round date with the Magic. And you'd better believe the dinos would rather play Orlando than Detroit.

Washington: If the refs hadn't given the Cavaliers a gift, Washington still could have stolen home-court on Wednesday if 1. they had beaten Orlando and 2. Cleveland lost in Detroit. Now they have no other choice but to open the playoffs on the road.

Maybe none of it matters. After all, the Basketball Gods take cheater's proof pretty seriously. So maybe Washington will prevail over Cleveland, and maybe Philly won't do any worse against the Pistons than they would have against the Magic. Maybe ... maybe ...