By Ben Morse, CNN
With the Lakers leading 105-103 with approximately 10 seconds remaining, the ball was inbounded to Lakers guard Austin Reaves with Suns defenders swarming him.
Reaves would eventually succumb to the defensive pressure as he lost control of the ball almost simultaneously as James – standing near an official on the other side of the court – signaled for a timeout.
Suns players were furious with the awarding of the timeout, with the ball appearing to not be in Reaves’ possession when the whistle blew and it falling into the waiting clutches of Suns guard Grayson Allen.
A gaggle of Suns players attempted to reason with the officials, while Phoenix head coach Frank Vogel also spent the break questioning why the decision was made.
In the final seconds following the timeout, Anthony Davis made a free throw and Kevin Durant’s last-second three-point attempt just missed as the Lakers held on for the victory to advance to the semifinals of the inaugural In-Season Tournament, joining the New Orleans Pelicans, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.
While the Lakers advanced, the Suns were left scratching their heads about the timeout call. In the postgame pool report, the crew chief for the game, Josh Tiven, explained why the timeout was awarded to James.
“During live play, the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout,” Tiven said when asked why the Lakers were awarded a timeout when it appeared that they did not have possession of the ball.
“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.”
When asked by reporters about the incident, Suns star guard Devin Booker declined to comment on it, but said that he’d been on social media in the aftermath of the game and a lot of his peers had agreed with him.
“The whole world seen it,” Booker said. “We’re not asking for favoritism, just a fair chance.”
Vogel explained that he didn’t believe the timeout should have been awarded.
“It’s a loose ball, the ball’s out, and they call a timeout on a loose ball. You can’t call a timeout on a loose ball. You can’t do it. So if the whistle blows, I don’t know why, if everything in the league is reviewable, I don’t know why that can’t be reviewed,” Vogel told reporters.
“I know it’s not a foul or an out of bounds, which is, like, a challenge. But at any point in the game, if the whistle blows inadvertently, the refs can huddle up and say: ‘Inadvertent whistle, where are we at during the game?’ That did not happen, so [it’s] extremely disappointing.”
James led the way for the Lakers in the victory, scoring 31 points – 15 of which came in the final quarter – as well as providing 11 assists, claiming eight rebounds and snagging five steals in a vintage performance for the veteran.
Davis added 27 points and 15 rebounds while Reaves provided vital scoring off the bench with 20 points to his name.
The Lakers will now face the Pelicans on Thursday in Las Vegas in the Western semifinal. The Bucks and the Pacers will play in the Eastern semifinal on Friday before the championship game on Saturday for the NBA Cup.
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