Instant Replay Ruined the Toronto Raptors’ Championship Moment

Draymond Green calls a timeout he doesn’t have.
Draymond Green calls a timeout he doesn’t have at the end of Game 6 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on Thursday. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors effectively won their first NBA title at 8:41 p.m. Pacific, when Draymond Green called a timeout the Golden State Warriors didn’t have. The Raptors actually won their first NBA title more than six minutes later, after two replay stoppages that did nothing to change the inevitable outcome but did rob Toronto of the championship celebration it deserved.

Despite the Warriors’ millionth injury—this one to a scorching Klay Thompson—Game 6 of the NBA Finals was extraordinarily competitive and entertaining, and a late Raptors turnover set the stage for an amazing ending. With Toronto up 111–110, Golden State ran a clever inbounds play to spring Stephen Curry for an open 3-pointer. Curry missed, and Kawhi Leonard—board man!—emerged with the ball momentarily before it ricocheted loose. Green pounced on it, and the Warriors forward made a T with his hands with 0.9 seconds left on the clock. The Warriors were out of timeouts, which meant they were called for a technical foul, giving the Raptors a free throw and possession with almost no time left. Pop the champagne!

Or keep it on ice. It would take 2 minutes and 50 seconds for Leonard to take that technical free throw, during which time the players paced awkwardly while the refs checked to see how much time was actually left on the clock. Turns out it was 0.9 seconds. Huh.

“Now they just have to inbound the ball, and the celebration will be underway,” ABC’s Mike Breen said after Leonard made the free throw, extending Toronto’s lead to 112–110.

Moments later, Kyle Lowry inbounded the ball to Leonard, who laid the ball in as the clock ran out. “That’s it! It’s over! The Raptors win! There’s a new NBA champ—” Breen exclaimed.

That wasn’t it. It wasn’t over. The Raptors didn’t win, yet.

There was a foul on Andre Iguodala, and the refs went to the monitor to see if it came before Leonard’s shot. The cameras showed Toronto’s Serge Ibaka with his head in his hands, overcome with something in the neighborhood of delight. Lowry looked confused. Kawhi Leonard looked like he was either about to win his second title or like a truck had run over his dog. (The man is hard to read.) About three minutes after Breen said it was over, Leonard went to the free-throw line again and knocked down another two shots.

“There’s a new NBA champion, and it’s a team from Toronto, Canada,” Breen said at 8:47 Pacific, and this time he really meant it.

The highlight videos show Leonard raising his arms in the air.

They show Pascal Siakam embracing Fred VanVleet.

What they don’t capture is what it felt like to watch a instant classic become a ponderous slog. Replay reviews exist because leagues and teams and fans have decided that it’s important to “get it right.” But the calls on the floor aren’t the only things—or even the main thing—that need to be right for a sport to be worth watching. The tenths on the clock at the end of Raptors-Warriors didn’t really matter, and neither did the precise timing of Iguodala’s last-gasp foul on Leonard. If they did matter, they didn’t matter nearly as much as those six-plus minutes of nonaction would suggest they did.

Those pointless reviews won’t make Toronto’s victory champagne taste any less sweet. They did, however, make it a little warmer.