PORTLAND, Ore. — Time had run out. No one who scrutinized the replay could honestly dispute that. The clock showed zeros on both sides of the decimal point. Ultimately, that could well serve as the symbol of the Portland Trail Blazers' chances now.
In what could have been a storied comeback in NBA playoff lore, Trail Blazer guard Danny Young sank a 35-foot basket at the buzzer--well, after, as it turned out--that could have sent Game 4 of the championship series against the Detroit Pistons into overtime Tuesday night.
But, typical of the close-but-not-quite-there nature of the Trail Blazers quest to unseat the reigning Pistons, officials disallowed Young's shot after several seconds of excruciating indecision.
And so, the Pistons had pulled out another victory, 112-109 this time, to take a three-games-to-one lead in the series. All Detroit needs to become the second team in 20 years to repeat as NBA champions is one victory in three. It could come as soon as Game 5 here Thursday night.
"It was the biggest shot I almost made," Young said.
Actually, there was no quarrel that Young made the shot. What Coach Rick Adelman, star guard Clyde Drexler and other Trail Blazer wishful thinkers questioned was the referee's ruling that Young released the ball after time had elapsed.
The replays confirmed that the right call had been made.
But try telling that to the Trail Blazers, one loss away from elimination and desperately searching for any shred of hope.
"I thought Danny's shot was good," said Drexler, who had 34 points. "One of the officials called it good. Danny got it off, and it was good."
Adelman said he did not watch the replay, nor did he have a good read on Young's shot in relation to the clock. But he criticized officials for not making an immediate ruling.
"The call should have been made immediately--good or no good," Adelman said. "I thought that's what they had three officials for. The official in front of me looked at the (official) at half court and that guy looked at the other official who called it no good."
Earl Strom, perhaps working his last NBA game before retirement, said he made the call.
"By our mechanics, the lead referee had the call on the final shot with the ball still in the man's hand when (no time) was on the clock," Strom said in a prepared statement. "The referees met to be sure all three had the same call."
Young, strangely, seemed the only Trail Blazer who conceded that he released the ball just a nanosecond too late.
"I thought with us being at home, we might get the call," Young said, shrugging.
Not even the home court could help the Trail Blazers on this night.
"We have a lot of big-time players, a lot of guys we can count on to make the big plays," said Piston reserve guard Vinnie Johnson, who had 20 points as the Piston reserves outscored the Portland reserves, 26-8. "We did a good job tonight. We didn't panic. We just kept playing, and we never gave in."
As much shock value as Young's last shot generated, it was merely a dramatic end to another impressive road effort by the Pistons, who won by 15 here in Game 3 and held on in Game 4 despite blowing a 16-point third-quarter advantage.
Surviving an inspired Trail Blazer comeback spurred by an effective full- and half-court traps, the Pistons showed the poise and experience of champions in their last few decisive possessions.
Well, at least, on most of the final plays.
A bad decision by Gerald Henderson, the Pistons' reserve guard, almost led to overtime had Young's shot counted.
Detroit still had a 110-109 lead after Portland guard Terry Porter sank two free throws with 6.5 seconds left. The Pistons, who had no timeouts left, inbounded the ball cleanly. Henderson streaked down court alone and received a pass from James Edwards. All Henderson, who had replaced the injured Johnson only seconds before, had to do was dribble out the clock.
But Henderson laid in the ball for a 112-109 Piston lead with 1.3 seconds left.
Alertly, Porter took the ball out of the net and fired a pass to Young just beyond halfcourt. Young gathered himself, then delivered a push shot. But the referees ruled, and replays confirmed, that Young did not beat the clock.
In fact, the game's final minute had more drama than the previous 47.
The Pistons had a 106-102 lead with 1:17 left after Joe Dumars, who chose to play despite the death of his father on Sunday, sank a jumper. But Portland's Jerome Kersey, who had 33 points, was fouled 15 seconds later. He sank both free throws to cut the lead to two points.
Piston forward John Salley was called for charging, his sixth foul, with 52 seconds left. Eighteen seconds later, Bill Laimbeer fouled Buck Williams, who made the first shot to make it 106-105, then missed the second free throw.
A scramble for the ball ensued, Drexler beating Laimbeer to the corner to gain possession. But as Drexler appeared to be falling out of bounds, he received a "nudge," (according to the Pistons) or a "shove," (according to the Trail Blazers).