Refs stand by controversial LeBron James timeout call that helped Lakers reach In-Season Tournament semifinals

The Los Angeles Lakers are headed to Las Vegas for the In-Season Tournament semifinals after defeating the Phoenix Suns, 106-103, in Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup, but the victory was not without controversy. Leading 105-103 with 11 seconds left, the Lakers needed only to inbound the ball, get fouled and make two free throws to effectively clinch the game. Yet when they attempted to do so, chaos ensued. Austin Reaves lost the ball and the Suns seemed to gain possession with a chance to tie or win the game. Fortunately for the Lakers, LeBron James had the foresight to call timeout to save possession.

Here’s the problem: Reaves didn’t seem to have possession of the ball when James called the timeout. Video seemingly shows that the ball was loose when James signaled for the timeout, meaning it should not have been granted and the Suns should have been able to gain possession on a live ball then and there.

After the game, pool reporter Jovan Buha of The Athletic asked crew chief Josh Tiven about the incident, and he stood by the call. “During live play the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout,” Tiven said. “Through postgame video review in slow motion replay, we did see that Austin Reaves had his left hand on the ball while it’s pinned against his left leg, which does constitute control.

Instead of Grayson Allen potentially tying the game on a quick layup, the Lakers were allowed the timeout and another chance to inbound the ball. After yet another timeout, Anthony Davis was fouled and made his first free throw. He missed the second, but Kevin Durant came up short on a game-tying 3-point attempt as the clock wound down. That sealed the Lakers’ victory, and it was a meaningful one at that.

The Lakers will now travel to Las Vegas for a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans. If they win that game, then a championship game awaits them against either the Indiana Pacers or Milwaukee Bucks — and each player on the last team standing earns an additional $500,000. The Lakers have spoken quite a bit about wanting to win that prize, though the top award would’ve been especially meaningful to the Suns. They have nine players earning minimum salaries this season. Even the wealthier Suns were upset with the call. “We’re not asking for favoritism, just a fair chance,” Devin Booker said after the game. Booker also posted a screenshot that seemingly showed James calling for time without Reaves possessing the ball to his Instagram story after the game.

Instead of competing for the grand prize, the Suns will have to settle for a Friday date hosting the Sacramento Kings. It may only be a single loss in the standings, but given the attention on the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, the last thing anyone wants is a controversial ending to a knockout game.

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