It could only have happened in New Orleans.
You see, the city has a history of basketball-game endings that make your jaw drop, involving teams and timeouts they thought they had.
But during the 1993 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game, Chris Webber’s Michigan Wolverines were already trailing North Carolina by two when he made the frantic “T” with his hands draped in a double-team near the corner of the court closest to his team’s bench in the Louisiana Superdome.
No one knows if the Fab Five could have mustered up a memorable comeback, but in a way, the Pelicans’ 138-136 overtime loss Saturday night to the visiting Phoenix Suns was even weirder — albeit with less on the line.
Julius Randle sunk the backend of a pair of free throws with 12.8 seconds to go in overtime to give the Pelicans a three-point lead, 136-133. When Devin Booker, who led all scorers with 40 points, airballed a step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9.2 seconds left, it looked like Alvin Gentry’s squad had things sealed.
New Orleans called its final timeout — its last — with 7.7 seconds to go. Elfrid Payton stepped out of the huddle and prepared to inbound the ball but couldn’t find an opening and was called for a five-second violation.
“I was thinking about calling a timeout,” he said. “I didn’t know for sure, which is terrible to say, but I didn’t know if we had a timeout left.
“I was informed after that that we didn’t have any timeouts, so everyone was well-aware, especially after that play.”
Or so he thought.
With 2.2 seconds left, Josh Jackson sunk a game-tying 3-pointer. Then, video referred to after the game shows what appears to be Gentry storming up the sideline to call a timeout his team didn’t have, and offense penalized with a technical foul, meaning a free throw and possession of the ball to the opposing team.
“That was my mistake. That was on me,” Gentry said after the game. “I called a timeout, and we didn’t have one. That’s where the technical came from. I thought we had one left, and we didn’t. That falls on me.”
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Pelicans called a timeout when they had none left and it cost them the game in OT... pic.twitter.com/ooNgpgD4jM— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 17, 2019
But when asked about Payton’s failed inbounds pass, Gentry appeared to have known then of the team’s timeout situation. In the heat of what was an intense, back-and-forth game between two teams playing for little more than pride, Gentry made a mistake.
“No, we had already said we didn’t have one. … That’s why I said I’ll take the hit because the second one, I called,” he said.
As frustrating a loss as that may be to stomach, Gentry correctly pointed out his team dug a share of its own grave slowly along the way with its roller-coaster performance. The team finished with 13 first-half turnovers that led to 10 Phoenix points, and New Orleans went a 6:19 stretch of the second quarter without a field goal. Still, Phoenix led just 66-60 at the end of the first half. The Suns would stretch that to as many as 13 points early in the third before the Pelicans rode an 11-1 streak to close the gap, going into the final 12 minutes of regulation down 89-85. With four players scoring at least six points in the fourth, Gentry’s squad rode a back-and-forth contest into extra time, despite finishing the game with 23 total turnovers, leading to 30 Suns points, and missing 14 of the team's 41 free-throw attempts.
The loss sullied Payton’s ride into the history books, becoming just the eighth player in NBA history to record four consecutive triple-doubles. He tied a career-high in assists (16) he set in Friday night’s loss to Portland and added 16 points and 13 rebounds to join the likes of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Maurice Stokes.
“Yes, it’s kinda cool, but I can’t really enjoy that,” he said. “It’s alright.
“It was wild out there tonight.”