“An offensive foul. Possession Spurs,” said official Ken Mauer after the game. He wasn’t wrong—Dion Waiters very clearly pushed Manu Ginobili on the inbound attempt. However, upon further review, Mauer will see that he and his crew absolutely botched the final 13.5 seconds of the game, which Zach Harper of CBS Sports sums up perfectly. There were seven missed calls by the referees, and one instance of potential fan interference. Six of those calls occurred in just one second of play time. Let’s break it down:
• [00:13.5] Ginobili was over the line on on the inbound In the last two minutes of the game, this results in a technical foul, which would’ve resulted in two free throws and possession for the Thunder
• [00:13.5] Waiters pushes Ginobili with his forearm, which should have been an offensive foul; Spurs possession
• [00:13.5] Waiters jumps on the inbound, which would have been an inbound violation; Spurs possession
• [00:13.5] Kawhi Leonard holds Westbrook’s jersey away from the ball, which should result in an away-from-the-play foul; One free throw and Thunder possession
• [00:12.5] The clock starts approximately one second before Durant touches the ball. One more second at the end of the game could’ve resulted in a much different finish.
• [00:12.5] Danny Green potentially fouls Durant on the inbound; two Thunder free throws
• [00:2.9] LaMarcus Aldridge grabs Serge Ibaka for a rebound after a missed Patty Mills three; two Thunder free throws
• [00:2.2] Fan grabs Steven Adams as he recovers from falling out of bounds. It appears as if this action was more instinctual than malicious, but Adams’ hateful gaze afterwards seems to suggest he didn’t think it was an accident.
It was one of the most bizarre finishes the the NBA playoffs have seen so far. Magic Johnson went so far as to label the no-call on Waiters’ errant forearm “the worst missed call in playoff history,” which makes one wonder where Game 6 of Lakers vs Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals ranks for the LA legend.
The worst part about a refereeing fiasco like the one that occurred in San Antonio Monday night is that it undermines what was otherwise an entertaining and competitive game. The two heavy weights traded blows the entire game. The Thunder would make a run, and the Spurs would respond with their machine-like execution. Kevin Durant seemed to find his shooting touch last night, ending with 28 points on 11-19 shooting, adding seven rebounds and four assists. Russell Westbrook finished with 29, seven, and ten.
Although Kawhi Leonard had a tough shooting night (7-18), LaMarcus Aldridge somehow improved on an almost perfect Game 1, scoring 41 point on 71% shooting and adding eight rebounds and two blocks. On the series, Aldridge has a True Shooting Percentage (a stat that accounts for the increased efficiency of three-pointers and free throws) of 80%, a usage rate of almost 33%, and a game score of 35.2. For perspective, the next best game score in the series is Russell Westbrook with 16.4.
Although the Thunder starters got the job done, it’s quite obvious that OKC’s bench is outmatched. Thunder starters were a combined +56 points while on the court, while the four reserve players (Waiters, Kanter, Morrow, and Payne) went -51. Although rotations are shortened in the playoffs, a team must rely on their bench players on nights where the starters aren’t getting it done.
In the end, though, it came down to the Thunder’s crunch time execution, an encouraging sign considering that closing out games has been the Thunder’s Achilles heel all season long. It’s unfortunate that 48 minutes of stellar play were lost in the officiating quagmire of the last 13 seconds, but, these are the (in the words of the immortal David Halbestram) breaks of the game. It feels as if this is now a brand new series—essentially now a best of five games, three of which are in OKC. Don’t miss Game 3 in Oklahoma City, Friday night at 8:30.