Suns' crazy game-winning alley-oop was legal because of a little-known NBA rule that their coach had kept secret for 15 years

NBA
  • The Phoenix Suns beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 99-97, on a buzzer-beating alley-oop to Tyson Chandler on Tuesday night.
  • Coach Jay Triano had Dragan Bender intentionally “shoot” the ball at the basket, knowing all Chandler had to do was touch the ball before it went in.
  • Triano actually clarified the rule with NBA officials 15 years ago and had been sitting on this play since then.

The Phoenix Suns beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night with one of the crazier winning shots you will ever see.

The play came with the score tied, 97-97, and the Suns tasked with inbounding the ball from the side. In what turned out to be a prescient call, the announcer said, “Don’t discount the lob to Tyson Chandler,” who was left in a one-on-one situation under the basket.

Except the Suns did more than just “lob” the ball to Chandler. Dragan Bender inbounded the ball as if he were trying to make a shot. Just as the ball reached the rim, Chandler redirected the “shot” into the basket for the win.

Let’s ignore for now the push-off by Chandler. That probably could have been called a foul, but at the same time, pushing and shoving are normal under the basket and usually ignored on inbounds plays.

The more clear-cut violation, or at least many thought, was Chandler committing basket interference (i.e., the offence’s version of goaltending) by touching the ball while it was above the rim. It turns out there was nothing illegal about this play, and coach Jay Triano had been sitting on a little-known rule for 15 years just waiting to use it.

“It’s a rule that a lot of people don’t know,” Triano said after the game. “You can’t goaltend a ball that isn’t going to count. So I tell our guys to shoot the ball in the basket, and all Tyson has to do is touch it on the way down. Or grab the rim and have it hit your knuckle and go in.”

In other words, a play can be goaltending or basket interference only on a legal shot – a lob from out of bounds is not a legal shot.

The play is specifically addressed in the NBA’s case book (via ESPN).

ESPN

Triano also said he had known about the rule for a long time and had been sitting on this play since his days as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors 15 years ago.

“I asked the officials when they come and do their clinics and seminars with the coaches, I asked them that 15 years ago back when I was in Toronto,” Triano said. “They had to go back [to the rule book] and look at it and come back. And I have tried to keep it a secret. It’s not a secret anymore.”

The cat is out of the bag now.

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