If you fell asleep before the end of the Oklahoma City 98-97 thriller over the San Antonio Spurs, you missed one of the greatest moments in modern NBA history. The Spurs started the game shooting 1-13 from the field, fell behind early and scrambled back into the game late. LeMarcus Aldridge played one of the best games of his career, dominating Serge Ibaka in the post on his way to 41 points, 10-10 from the free-throw line and 15-21 from the field.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both got back on track in game two, Durant finished with 28 points on 11-19 shooting and Westbrook finished with 29 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. Steven Adams had a solid game down low, scoring 12 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Yet the rest of the Thunder looked legitimately terrified when they were called upon to make plays. There was a possession in which rookie point guard, Cameron Payne nearly went into the fetal position when Kawhi Leonard put him in straight jacket 35 feet from the basket.
Somehow the Thunder held a five point lead with 30 seconds left. That’s when things started to get crazy. The first play that made the game interesting, was this mind boggling behind the back pass from Tony Parker to a wide open LeMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge drains the three to make the score 96-94 with 25 seconds left.
Next we have Russell Westbrook getting intentionally fouled, and after Russ makes both of his free throws the the lead is back up to four, 98-94.
On the ensuing possession, the Spurs go back to Aldridge – a guy who shot 0-16 from three during the regular season, and had made his first three pointer of the postseason in the prior possession – for the game saving shot. Aldridge pump fakes from beyond the arch as the shot clock is ticking down, and Serge Ibaka goes for it like a moth to the flame. Aldridge leans into the airborne Ibaka, drawing the foul, and goes to the free throw line for three shots. This play just highlighted how much Aldridge owned Ibaka in this game. He knew that Ibaka was going to go for the fake.
Aldridge makes all three free throws, bringing the score to 98-7. Oklahoma City calls a 20 second time out, and we are all set up for the craziest 13 seconds in of professional basketball in recent memory.
The first thing to take note of on this play is that Billy Donovan elects to have Dion Waiters be the inbound passer on a game deciding play. Donovan was horrible in his lineup decisions tonight, but there may be no more unforgivable decision than having Dion Waiters throw the ball in.
Let’s see the final possession play out in its entirety before we start dissecting.
On first blush it looks like Waiters throws a bad imbounds pass, which gets intercepted by Green, leading to a missed shot by Parker, a follow-up missed shot by Aldridge – who may or may not have been fouled – and a final scrum for the ball as the clock runs out.
What an ending right?
But wait, there’s more! After the clock has ran out Chris Webber immediately calls out Waiters for pushing off on Ginobli before the inbounds pass. Let’s check that out!
Whoa! Hey ref, you are standing three feet away, how do you not call that! There is very clearly a shove from Waiters, which is needless to say an offensive foul. The internet was in an outrage from the second the no-call was exposed. Vines sprung up like so many weeds in an untended garden. My twitter feed was painted with the frowny faces of a thousand emojis. Such injustice, what a disgrace to the game!
But then, just the self righteousness reached peak levels, this screen shot showed up on my feed.
Ouch. So if the referee was actually paying any attention to what was happening three feet in front of his face he would have noticed Ginobli’s foot was over the inbounds line. The Spurs would have been issued a technical foul, and this whole mess would not have happened. This new evidence was championed by the smug, cool headed rationalist among the NBA Twitter elite, but it’s not as fun as becoming irate over Waiter’s shove. I mean, just look at that shove! How does anyone get away with a shove like that!
(Coughs, Jordan. Coughs, game six)
So there you have it, a game that ended on a crazy two-way no call. Surely nothing else could make that play any more nuts…
What if I told you a fan literally reached out and grabbed one of the players as they were trying to get up and make a play at the end of regulation? Would you believe it? Because it totally happened!
So it goes…
The game ended, and the referees grabbed their shit and got out of dodge as soon as they could, but not before Coach Popavich could get some – and I’m just making assumptions here – unpleasant remarks in.
What we have in the fallout of all the craziness is a series that is now tied at one game apiece, heading back to OKC on Friday. The Spurs spent a hell of a lot of energy climbing themselves out of the early hole they dug in game two, and wasted what was an absolute classic performance out of LeMarcus Aldridge. If the Thunder find it within themselves to pull of an upset in this series, both teams will look back at the closing moments in this game and wonder what could have been.
The NBA is the perfect sport for the modern internet, where highlights get packaged into bite size bits of digital bliss. Tonight Dion Waiters provided everyone who follows the NBA online with a hearty feast, and for that I salute him.