With 7.6 seconds to go in overtime, down 136-133, Suns guard Devin Booker tried to hit a game-tying three but airballed the shot completely and gave possession back to his opponents. The Pelicans then used their final timeout—keep that in mind—to advance the ball for an inbounds play that would at least force Phoenix to foul, essentially ending the game. But the Suns had a rare moment of team synergy and played excellent defense on the New Orleans players trying to get the ball. Elfrid Payton tried to call a timeout to reset things, but a sprinting Alvin Gentry made his way over to his player to stop him from doing so because the team didn’t have any left. The Pelicans had no choice but to swallow a five-second violation, and give possession back to the Suns.
That’s bad. But, in theory, it’s not the worst thing in the world. All New Orleans has to do is foul an opposing player and just try this whole cycle all over again with a tinier lead. Except they didn’t do that at all and let Josh Jackson make his way over to the three-point line—a spot where he’s shoots under 29 percent for his career—and chuck a game-tying shot over two defenders. Once the shot went in, coach Gentry (who had just finished frantically informing one of his players that his team was out of timeouts) felt the team needed a moment to regroup and called timeout. As any Michigan fan would know, this resulted in a technical foul given to the Suns. Booker easily hit the free throw and stole the win, 137-136.
The symphony of agony created from the combination of the defeated tone of the Pelicans broadcasters and the disbelief from the crowd made for a beautiful backing track to this comical collapse.
As for who’s to blame, Gentry kind of took the fall on this one, telling NOLA.com after the game that he was the one who called timeout, while also giving a little blame to an unspecified “they.”
“Oh, I called it,” Gentry said. “That was my mistake. That was on me. I called the timeout, we didn’t have a timeout, and that’s where the technical came from. I thought we had one left. They said we had one left. We didn’t have one left. That was all on me. I’ll take the hit for that one.”
It’s easy to call this a bone-headed move for those involved and a sign that the Pelicans truly embody mediocrity, but this is obviously Gentry playing chess while the rest of us play checkers. With the bottom-three teams receiving equal odds for the No. 1 pick in the draft this year, there’s more incentive to steal losses from teams that seem out of reach for this race. Gentry appears to be pioneering a new way to maneuver the standings through failure in a way we’ll all look back and think of as visionary in a decade’s time.