John Hoover

Waiters’ unseen foul was not the pivotal play in Thunder’s unlikely victory

Waiters’ unseen foul was not the pivotal play in Thunder’s unlikely victory

WestbrookThere is no doubt Dion Waiters fouled Manu Ginobili on a frantic inbounds pass in the waning seconds of Oklahoma City’s 98-97 victory at San Antonio on Monday night.

But there is mounting doubt as to whether that should be considered the game’s pivotal play.

We love controversy. And Waiters leaning into Ginobili with an elbow to get off his wayward pass was controversial. Players, coaches and all four members of the TNT studio broadcast team said they’d never seen a play like it in all their basketball years.

Even NBA crew chief Ken Mauer said he’d never seen it before.

“On the floor, we did not see the foul on the play,” Mauer told a pool reporter after the game. “However, upon review we realize and we agree that we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play that we have never seen before, ever, but we feel we should have had an offensive foul on Waiters.”

Two main reasons why Waiters’ elbow to Ginobili’s chest should not be the narrative coming out of this game.

One, the Spurs actually stole the inbounds pass and had more than 10 seconds — and a timeout — to collect themselves offensively and put together a productive possession. Instead, San Antonio panicked a bit, passing the ball around for Patty Mills’ miss of a contested 3. The rebound pinballed around under the bucket until the clock expired.

Even with the controversy, the Spurs had their shot and missed.

Two, officials missed a good amount of calls throughout the game — not the least of which was Ginobili’s foot on the line as he crowded Waiters. That’s a violation. Defenders are supposed to give the inbounder ample space, and Waiters had none. Thus Waiters’ thinking he needed a clear-out elbow, which Mauer said should have been a simple offensive foul and turnover, and should have awarded San Antonio the ball out of bounds.

Former NBA executive vice president and TNT analyst Stu Jackson issued a series of tweets, quoting NBA rules 8 and 10 of Section III, explaining that Waiters committed a violation (“until ball has crossed the plane of the boundary,  no player shall have any part of his person over the boundary line”), acknowledging it was an “unusual play that probably caught ref by surprise” and that the ref was probably looking at Waiters’ feet, not his elbows, and that a photo shows Ginobili’s “foot stepping over line before Waiters contact. That is also a violation. No player may cross”.

Here’s the photo to which Jackson refers:

As Dion Waiters tries to inbound the ball, Manu Ginobili's left foot is on the line--a violation by Ginobili.

As Dion Waiters tries to inbound the ball, Manu Ginobili’s left foot is on the line, a violation by Ginobili.

Refs also missed Kevin Durant getting whacked in the head on a fast-break dunk earlier in the game (on replay, you can clearly see Durant’s head rock sideways upon contact). They also fell for Mills’ flop that drew a charge on Waiters (Mills slid out into Waiters’ path). And as Durant elevated to catch Waiters’ fateful pass, he did draw contact from Danny Green that ended up putting Durant on the floor. A handful of calls — either missed or called in error — happen every game. For Magic Johnson and others to suggest it was the worst call in playoff history is just silly.

This game wasn’t won or lost by Waiters’ unprecedented elbow on an inbounds play that could have been whistled in OKC’s favor either before (Ginobili’s foot) or after (Green’s foul on Durant), or rendered moot by a Spurs 3-on-1 layup or a Mills 3-pointer or putback.

It was won by the Thunder defense, San Antonio’s off shooting night, OKC’s rebounding, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams’ aggregate inside presence (10-of-16 shooting, 18 rebounds and three blocks),  and the resilience of Durant and Westbrook to bounce back (a combined 57 points on 22-of-44 shooting with 14 rebounds and 14 assists) from a miserable Game 1.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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