It was another primetime night for the NBA in Orlando, and generally their worst nightmare is when the refs hijack such an occasion. NBA refs can never decide if they want to be the show or not, and the indecision tends to just make it worse (credit the other sports arbiters for knowing exactly what they want, resulting in varying problems — NHL refs definitely don’t want to be the show, MLB umps definitely do, and NFL refs don’t even know the rules and fall off the stage at the audition). We’ll get to all that.
The main event was Game 7 between the Rockets and Thunder, which was at least close to the end if not exactly pristinely played. The main story looked like it was going to be OKC’s Lu Dort, as the undrafted rookie went off for 30, having never scored more than 23 this season. Chris Paul became the oldest player to achieve a Game 7 triple-double by nearly four years , and the Thunder took the game and series all the way to the final buzzer before losing 104-102.
But the Thunder will rue not taking advantage of a game where even James Harden admitted he “played like shit,” (4-for-15 from the floor) as OKC didn’t score for the last two minutes and left the door open for Harden to duck more questions about his work in Game 7s when he blocked Lu Dort’s shot (yes, that James Harden) with two seconds left and the Rockets up one.
The last second-and-a-half took about two weeks to play thanks to the refs not knowing whether the Thunder called a timeout before they whistled Harden for a foul on Paul away from the ball that would be bashful about calling itself even soft. Eventually they gave the foul, but the Thunder missed the free throws and then couldn’t inbound the ball. So the Rockets will get to take their form of basketball reduction on to Round 2 to face the Lakers.
The refs for that one will owe the refs from Miami’s and Milwaukee’s Game 2 a few shots at the bar for giving them cover. The game featured 71 free throws and 51 fouls, making it resemble rugby played by water buffaloes at times.
The refs saved their best for the game’s final throes, because that’s when the lights to steal shine brightest. First they discovered a foul on Khris Middleton that only they could see and must’ve emerged from a separate dimension to give him three free throws that allowed the Bucks to tie the game with four seconds left. However, not adhering to the old comedy rule of always leave ’em wanting more, the refs went for broke on the last possession of the game, when they whistled Giannis Antetokounmpo for a gently reassuring hand on Jimmy Butler’s ribs after he had already let go of his shot that missed. Butler only had to hit one free throw with no time on the clock to win the game as the Heat won 116-114. If this were baseball each team would have seen their manager, bench coach, pitching coach, and video tech ejected from the game with each team being led by beer vendors after sales were cut off.
The ref show will overshadow that the Heat seemingly had everything the Bucks thought about doing scoped out and were a step ahead for most of the game. And now that it’s up 2-0, Miami seemingly only has to avoid a Giannis supernova to win the series.
Taking a back seat in the sporting world, because that’s its purpose in life, was the NHL in Edmonton. The Avalanche forced a Game 7 with a 4-1 win against the Stars even though they’re down two goalies, two defensemen, and three forwards (and also captain Gabriel Landeskog for a stretch of this one) through injury. It’s going unnoticed, again because of hockey, but Nathan MacKinnon has taken on another life form for the Avs. He’s put up 22 points in 11 playoff games so far, and while he didn’t do it single-handedly last night, he did ice the game when he gave Dallas’ John Klingberg this hockey version of a swirlie before allowing Mikko Rantanen to cricket bat it into the roof of the net. They’ll be scraping scraps of Klingberg’s DNA off the glass for years.
MacKinnon, and Cale Makar who has already set a record for points in a playoff run by a rookie D-man (if you count the three bullshit round- robin games, are dragging the Avs through with Michael Hutchinson in goal (there’s not enough time for all that he wants for you), their third-string goalie who is on his third team in two seasons and had never played a playoff game before along with all the other fill-ins they’ve had to use. Dallas will wonder how it’s gotten this far, much less if they manage to cock up Game 7.
Baseball gave us DRONE II: THE DRONENING last night in New York, as again a game was stalled and players removed from the field due to a drone hovering over the field. Whoever did this is a bigger asshole than the one who cooked up the delay in Minnesota a few weeks back, because now it doesn’t even have originality. Or maybe they were just as tired of the childish bullshit the Rays and Yankees had been engaging in and thought this was the best way to not have to see it. Anyway, eventually the drone had to make its date for some performance art in Brooklyn and the Rays resumed kicking the shit out of the Yankees, 5-2, as has been their custom this year.