Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks: The Length of a Tenth of a Second

Rahil DevganCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2010

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks on the court against the New Jersey Nets on November 30, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

What can you do in two tenths of a second? Take a sip of water? Blink twice? Win a basketball game?

In the land of the typical NBA catch-and-shoot buzzer beater, 00.3 is the magical number. It's what the NBA rule book deems the minimum time required to receive an inbounds pass and attempt a shot.

Between 00.3 and 00.1 seconds the only hope is an alley-oop (can't think of a better example than David Lee) and below a tenth of a second, there isn't any hope at all. 

As Paul Pierce approaches the three point line against the streaking Knicks with just under five seconds left on the shot clock, his experienced assassin mentality sets in and his mind carefully divides itself into two - one on the shot clock as the precious seconds tick away and the other on the basket where he would execute to perfection moments later. As Pierce has done judiciously in the past, this one was perfect too.

Well, almost. 

Look at the video below:

The first thing I did when I saw it was to focus on Pierce and the ball's arc towards the net while simultaneously keep an eye on the shot clock in my subconsciousness. When Pierce releases the ball, there are just under two seconds left. By the time the ball drops and the sound of the swish carries through, the clock reads about 00.7 seconds give or take a tenth.

Don't think so? Let me do the dirty work and freeze the frame at the exact moment. 

Still not convinced because you can't see the official shot clock? Now you can.

I suppose you could make a case that the ball goes through the net a couple of tenths of a second before that which would leave about 00.8 seconds on the clock. But why are we even having this argument?

It's because of what the Knick's $100 million MVP candidate free agent signing does next:


Off the inbounds pass, not-renowned-for-his-three-point-shot Stoudemire sets himself up, swings the ball upwards in a fluid motion and launches the ball straight through the net...a tenth of a second after the buzzer sounds.

Celtics get a win at Madison Square Garden. Pierce gets his swagger. Knicks gain respect. All is well. End of story.


That's human error for you. The shot clock is manually handled ensuring that there remains a human element when the clock needs to be stopped. Unless we advance to a stage where motion sensors determine the ball's path till it falls and immediately reverts back to a mechanized shot clock, there's not much else that can provide Stoudemire any solace after his 39 point, 10 rebound effort. 

Would the Knicks have drawn up a different play with seven tenths of a second on the board? Maybe. Would the Celtics have defended differently? Perhaps.

But that's the irony of clutch moments in sport. They're beautiful to watch. They're cruel to watch. And they sure as hell aren't error free.