Suns Pull Off the Hidden-Rule Trick and Emerge With a Victory

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Triano and the Suns stole the game, and it was a reminder that there are still plenty of obscure regulations and loopholes out there in pro sports just waiting to be exploited by the right egghead coach at the fitting time.

In the N.F.L., there is Rule 11, Section 4, Article 3: the fair-catch kick rule. It allows a team to attempt an unimpeded field goal from the spot of a fair catch, and possibly score the winning 3 points in the waning seconds of a game.

On such a play, the defense can’t rush the kicker, who, in turn, can get a better running start before he kicks the ball.

In Major League Baseball, according to Rule 6.06 (a), a batter can be called out if he hits a fair or foul ball with one foot “on the ground entirely outside the batter’s box.” But it is a rule that certainly doesn’t seem to resonate with umpires. Imagine if a game-winning homer were nullified because of the positioning of a batter’s left cleat. It would be George Brett’s pine-tar homer, all over again.

Many of the more-intriguing instances of exploiting semi-concealed rules have occurred in and around a 10-foot basket.

Take the scene in New Jersey during an exhibition game between the Knicks and Nets in the early 1980s. Albert King of the Nets came flying downcourt and dunked the ball on a fast break. As his momentum carried him beneath and past the hoop, the basketball hit the top of his head and bounced back up and out of the rim. When it hit his head, the entire ball had entirely passed through the rim but had not yet cleared the netting.

Hubie Brown, who was coaching the Knicks, made quite a fuss on the sideline, insisting this was not a basket. After the officials had conferred for some time, they agreed with him. The relevant Rule 5, Section I-a states: “A legal field goal or free-throw attempt shall be scored when a live ball from the playing area enters the basket from above and remains in or passes through the net.”

King’s shot did not pass through the net, and it did not get stuck in there. Therefore, there was no basket, much to the chagrin of Larry Brown, the coach of the Nets.

As for Chandler’s winning basket, it might never have been attempted if not for the so-called Trent Tucker Rule that was put into place after a controversial Martin Luther King Day victory by the Knicks in 1990. In that game against the Chicago Bulls, the score was tied, 106-106, with 0.1 seconds showing on the game clock. Mark Jackson threw the ball in to Tucker outside the arc. Tucker turned, set and launched a 3-pointer that fell in for a 109-106 victory.

It was obvious to all in attendance that Tucker had not accomplished such balletic movements in a mere one-tenth of a second. The clock simply had not been restarted until Tucker’s shot was launched. The league allowed the Knicks’ victory but changed the rules so that only tip-ins or alley-oops would be allowed to count with 0.3 seconds or less remaining on the clock when a ball is inbounded.

The Suns had 0.6 seconds on Tuesday, but even that wasn’t really enough time to set up much of a shot for anybody. A standard alley-oop pass to Chandler just to the side of the rim? The Suns could have tried that, but it would have been much more difficult to pull off. Instead, Triano went for the rim.

“I thought he was crazy when he first told us,” Devin Booker, the Suns’ shooting guard, told “I’m thinking the ball is going in the hoop, you can’t touch it. That’s coaching right there.”

Afterward, Triano wasn’t boasting much about his tactical triumph. In fact, he sounded almost disappointed the cat was out of the bag.

“I tried to keep it a secret,” Triano said. “It’s not a secret anymore.”

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