It was just five seconds at the end of a rollicking basketball game for the Toronto Raptors against the Los Angeles Lakers but for Rasual Butler it seemed like an eternity.
And when referee Scott Foster rang up the home side for an inbounds violation with 4.2 seconds remaining, it left the veteran Toronto forward staring in disbelief and Raptors coach Dwane Casey raging in front of the team bench.
And the stunning development also felt like a punch in the gut for the near-capacity gathering of 19,311 fans at the Air Canada Centre who departed wondering what might have been.
The Raptors (9-20) gave what they had but in the end it was just not enough as the Lakers (16-12) rode the hot hand of – who else? – Kobe Bryant to record a controversial 94-92 victory over Toronto.
“What little money I make I think I like it, so I’m not going to comment on it,” a now composed Casey said of the contentious conclusion when he spoke with reporters about 15 minutes after the game had ended.
“We’ll send it to the league, let them review it.”
Bryant, who drained the winning three-point shot just moments earlier with typical aplomb, saw it differently.
“I didn’t go to college but I can count,” he said. “It was five seconds, good defence on our part.”
What would have been a memorable and confidence-boosting weekend for the rebuilding Raptors, who upended the Boston Celtics on Friday, instead ended on a sour note for Toronto.
The game followed a similar pattern for the temperamental Raptors, who began the game with their usual offensive lethargy – trailing by as many as 18 points in the opening quarter – before catching fire.
But it will be the fourth quarter that everybody will recall about this contest that began with the Lakers’ once-comfortable lead having dwindled down to 73-67 over the suddenly inspired Raptors.
Three times in the quarter the Raptors trimmed the Lakers lead to one point before guard Jose Calderon, who led Toronto with a career high 30 points and six assists, drained a three-pointer that deadlocked the score a 84-84 with just over three minutes left.
Ed Davis than made a big dunk followed by a tricky running jumper by Linas Kleiza and the Raptors suddenly found themselves leading by four points for the first time with their delirious fans screaming for more.
The clock ticked under a minute and Bryant began readying himself for heroics, beginning with a three-point shot over Kleiza that trimmed the Toronto lead to one.
Bryant would finish with 27 points.
Then, with 4.2 seconds left on the clock and the Lakers inbounding the ball, Kobe cut right and then left to elude the coverage.
He then accepted an inbounds pass from Metta World Peace and calmly drained an impossibly difficult 17-foot fadeaway jumper from the corner that moved the Lakers in front 93-92.
Toronto called a timeout to plan their next move, and Casey sent Butler in to handle the all-important inbounds pass.
It was the first time Butler had entered the game.
With the distracting presence of seven-foot Paul Gasol standing in front of him, Butler looked to his left, and then right, to try to find an open teammate to pass the ball to before he looked to Foster to signal a timeout.
Not in time, according to Foster, who ruled that Butler had used his permitted allotted time of five seconds to move the ball into play and blew the play dead, awarding possession to the Lakers.
“I asked for him [Foster]to count out loud for me, to help me out a little bit,” a subdued Butler said. “He did, I heard four and I turned to call a timeout and he felt like it was five seconds.”
On the subsequent Laker possession, Bryant was fouled and he made one of two free throws to make the score 94-92.
DeMar DeRozan then missed a desperate three-point try at the buzzer for Toronto and the Lakers’ victory was official.