For years people have discussed the infamous NBA Playoffs series involving the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers, not because of the fluid offence Rick Adelman developed in Sacramento, or the passing from the high post from Chris Webber or even the dysfunctional relationship that had developed in LA between two of the game’s biggest stars, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. This series was remembered for its officiating (or lack of) and last night’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles (there’s that city again) Clippers will be remembered in the same way.
I was gripped and glued to the television screen as I watched the final few seconds of this game unfold, the final 11.3 seconds felt like hours. The Clippers seemingly were well on their way to a 3-2 lead heading back to their home court until a series of unfortunate events took place. I don’t know about you but I’m glad we’re back to talking about plays and decisions rather than the ongoing Donald Sterling fiasco. Sadly I wasn’t a fan of the NBA during that Kings-Lakers series and wasn’t old enough to discuss it down at the bar over a few cold ones, but finally I have my opportunity.
Sure the officiating isn’t the one reason why the Clippers lost this game. Chris Paul was over aggressive and made some silly plays and Jamal Crawford went looking for one too many heat check plays. But those aren’t the kind of moments that get us talking and get us debating until the wee hours of the morning over a bottle of JD’s finest. Every game players get away with things, refs miss certain calls but the ones that decide close games, a close PLAYOFF game linger in our minds so much more.
This was a total collapse from the Clippers, similar to the one that the Thunder had in their previous encounter. Chris Paul nailed a jumper to put the Clippers up by 7 with 49 points left on the clock, Paul looked off into the crowd with a look in his eye that screamed ‘I’m going to my first conference final’.
Kevin Durant, who had been saved by the magnificent play of Russell Westbrook, nailed a three-pointer to cut the lead to 4. Jamal Crawford then went one-on-one and missed a layup leading to a layup for Durant on the other end. Thunder down by 2. The Clippers inbounded the ball to Chris Paul, ‘the best point guard in the NBA’, and he turned the ball over. Steve Kerr made a good call during the game and pointed out the Paul was waiting for the foul and when he saw Westbrook coming at him he tried to get off a shot just before Westbrook fouled him thus leading to three free throws instead of two. A savvy play by ‘the best point card in the NBA’…if he managed to pull it off. But he didn’t. Westbrook stripped him of the ball, which fell to Reggie Jackson.
With around 12 seconds left, Jackson drove to the basket on Matt Barnes and a whistle was blown…but for what? No foul was called, to the shock of everyone in the arena and to most of us watching at home. The refs called it Thunder ball but with it being in the last few minutes of the game the refs could review the play.
The rules state that NBA referees can review whose ball it is but can’t review whether it was a foul or not. After reviewing the play the refs called it Thunder ball once more, Doc Rivers was irate:
“It was our ball. Everybody knows it was our ball. Everybody knows it was our ball. The bottom line is, they thought it was a foul and they made up for it”.
This is where the conspiracy games come to play. It has been known for years that NBA refs make certain calls to make up for certain calls they missed earlier in the game, but to do it so glaringly obvious as they did was a shock. The thunder inbounded the ball and Westbrook pulled up for a three and was fouled by Chris Paul. Another dumb play by ‘the best point guard in the NBA’. Westbrook went to the line and made all three free throws. Clutch. The Clippers had one more chance, down by one they put the ball in ‘the best point guard in the NBA’s’ hands…he turned it over. Ball game.
The Clippers made lots of mistakes down the stretch but that decision from the refs could be a series-defining call. The Clippers came out hungry and sharp to start this game, where as the Thunder were the total opposite. This could be a hangover of the huge lead the Thunder blew in Game 4 and who is to say the same won’t happen in game 6? The Clippers are angry and hurting, the Thunder know they got away with one last night and are overjoyed. What mindstate would you like to be in going into a crucial Game 6? I know which I’d prefer, all I can say is don’t miss it.
Aodán Mitchell, Pundit Arena.