How long is four-tenths of a second?
One snap of the fingers.
Two blinks of an eye.
Or, if everyone conducted business the way the NBA does, enough time to log onto the Internet, Google "Derek Fisher," call up his bio, print it and read it while you microwave and eat dinner.
At the end of Thursday night's playoff game between the Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, nearly five real-time minutes passed between Tim Duncan's basket with 0.4 of a second left on the game clock and Fisher's winner at the buzzer. Armed with a VCR and a stopwatch, I timed how long it took the Lakers and the Spurs to finish the game from there.
Stopwatch read: 4:57.73.
Enough time for three timeouts -- two called by the Lakers, one by the Spurs.
Enough time for ABC analyst Doc Rivers to be wrong twice.
During the first timeout after Duncan's basket, which gave the Spurs a 73-72 lead, Rivers said San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich "has to be thinking right now, 'My goodness, we've lost to the Lakers. And now we have to go out to L.A. down, 3-2.' Now they're up, 3-2. Wow."
Two timeouts later, Rivers said he liked Popovich's strategy not to have a player pressure Gary Payton, who was about to inbound the ball for the Lakers.
"I like what Gregg Popovich did," Rivers said. "Watch Robert Horry. He knows that he doesn't have to guard the guy out of bounds, because they don't have enough time to get it back to him. So what they're doing is like in football, they're 'spying' Kobe Bryant. Robert Horry is just stationed wherever Kobe Bryant is going. They're going to deny him the catch.
"They've seen those Portland highlights. They're not going to let Kobe Bryant get the ball. Great move by Gregg Popovich."
Unguarded, Payton had room to thread an in-bounds pass to Fisher, who caught, fired and sank the 18-foot jump shot that sent the Spurs back out to L.A. down, 3-2.
However, Rivers was right when he observed, during the first timeout, that the sliver of time between 0.4 and 0.3 remaining on the clock was massive.
"That tenth [of a second] is huge," he said. "Because with three-tenths, there's not enough time to get a shot off. With four-tenths of a second, you are allowed to catch and shoot."
An NBA rule puts it this way: "No less than :00.3 must expire on the game clock when a player secures possession of an inbounds pass and then attempts a field goal."
As it was, the Spurs contended that Fisher took more than 0.4 of a second to catch and shoot, filing a protest with the league, charging that the clock had not started quickly enough when Fisher touched the ball. Friday, the NBA denied the protest after reviewing the videotape.
Is it physically possible to catch, turn and release the basketball in four-tenths of a second?
Is it humanly possible to accurately measure the time between Fisher's first touch of the basketball and his release of it?
Again, we go to the stopwatch.
In a highly unscientific study, I tried timing the final play 10 times.
Seven times, Fisher's shot came in under 0.4 of a second. But, unlike the officials in San Antonio, I had the advantage of knowing where the in-bounds pass was headed, and to whom.
Three times, Fisher failed to beat the clock. The difference? A flinch? A twitch? Too much caffeine in the morning?
ABC/ESPN will be milking those four-tenths of a second. Monday, ESPN Classic will show three replays of Game 5 as an "Instant Classic" -- at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Get your own stopwatch ready.
Meanwhile, the Lakers tonight will try to turn those four-tenths of second into something much more. With a victory in Game 6 (TNT, 7:30 p.m.), the Lakers will close out the series, completing an improbable second-round resurrection and making them favorites to win their fourth league title in five seasons.
How long is four-tenths of a second?
Long enough, very possibly, to determine the next NBA champion.
Also available for viewing this weekend:
* Leicester City at Arsenal (Fox Sports World, 9 a.m.)
Is anything tougher than sinking the San Antonio Spurs in four-tenths of a second?
How about finishing an entire 38-game English Premier League soccer season undefeated?
Today, Arsenal takes a 25-0-12 record into its season finale, a home match against relegation-bound Leicester. With a victory or a draw, Arsenal will become the first top-flight English soccer club to complete a season undefeated since Preston North End in 1888-89. And Preston had to play only 22 games. Besides its 38 league games, Arsenal had to play 21 in domestic tournaments and the European Champions League during a season that began in August.
* Preakness Stakes (Channel 4, 3:04 p.m. post time)
Good news for horse racing: After winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1, Smarty Jones became the first horse since 1983 to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Bad news for Smarty Jones: After winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1, Smarty Jones became the first horse since 1983 to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
* Tampa Bay Lightning at Philadelphia Flyers (Channel 7, noon)
Good news for the Flyers: With Smarty Jones, another Philadelphia flyer, running in the Preakness, the city's attention will be divided as Philly's hockey team plays a must-win game.
Bad news for the Flyers: The last time another Tampa Bay team came to Philadelphia with this much on the line -- the 2002 NFC championship game -- the outcome wasn't brilliant for the home team.
* San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames (ESPN, 1 p.m.)
The Flames have become "Canada's team" as they try to become the first Canadian team since 1993 to win the Stanley Cup. But, first things first: The Flames' winning a game in Canada. So far in this series, the Sharks are 0-2 in San Jose and the Flames are 0-1 in Calgary.