If you haven’t yet watched the final play of last night’s 98-97 Thunder win, watch it and then collect the scattered pieces of your brainpan and then come back here to see the officials admit they might have missed a call somewhere in there.
Here’s lead referee Ken Mauer talking about the start of the sequence, where Dion Waiters became the first inbounder ever to successfully push off.
Can you explain what you saw on the inbounds play with 13.5 seconds remaining when Dion Waiters appeared to make contact with Manu Ginobili?
On the floor, we did not see a foul on the play. 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.
Had an offensive call been made on Waiters, what rule would have applied to a foul committed before throw-in?
An offensive foul. Possession Spurs.
That makes it sound so simple, and it’s so not.
Follow along! By my count, there were two other potential fouls even before Waiters elbowed Ginobili. 1) Ginobili stepped on, maybe even over the line while guarding the inbounds. This is fairly common, but Ginobili’s encroachment was more egregious than most. The refs could have stopped play there and whistled a delay-of-game foul on the Spurs. 2) Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard grabbed a handful of Russell Westbrook’s jersey. Again, usually uncalled, but it could have been an away-from-the-play foul, which would have meant a free throw and the ball for OKC.
3) Waiters’s contact with Ginobili. So far, the only one the refs admitted they missed, and probably—though not definitely—the most egregious blown call of the sequence.
4) When Waiters did finally inbound, he jumped before throwing the ball. You can’t do that! It’s a throw-in violation, and if called would have been Spurs ball.
Bonus clock error!) Watch the inbound pass again—the clock starts while Waiters’s pass is at the top of its arc to Kevin Durant. It shouldn’t have. The clock starts when the ball is first touched, and six-tenths of a second rolled off before Durant got a hand on the ball. This is a minor thing, and almost always goes unnoticed, but could have been a reset and we would have gotten to do this all over again.
5) Danny Green ripped away Durant’s arm, stopping him from corralling the inbound pass. Loose-ball foul, two OKC free throws? Whatever, this game was clearly being played under Calvinball rules by this point.
6) As Patty Mills missed a three, Steven Adams’s momentum carried him out of bounds, where a fan in the front row grabbed his arm and hindered him from getting back into the play. Fan interference is a real, if rarely called violation, and would have resulted in a dead ball with OKC possession.
7) Serge Ibaka mauled LaMarcus Aldridge in the scrum for the rebound. Loose-ball foul, two free throws, whatever—at this point, whistles had been swallowed, pooped out, and were halfway to the sewage treatment plant.
With such a bizarre cascade of potential fouls, each with varying degrees of whether they’re usually called, it’s not so easy to point at the first one, erase everything after it, and say a certain outcome should have happened.
It almost feels right to let the whole thing go: On the whole, karmic balance was achieved through roughly equal amounts of slapstick. (This will not satisfy Spurs fans, especially now that the lead ref has said it should have been San Antonio ball.)
Every day, the NBA releases Last Two Minutes Reports, breaking down all of the calls and non-calls of the final two minutes of the previous night’s games and labeling them either correct or incorrect. The reports are usually made public in late afternoon/early evening, and you’ll be able to find the one for OKC-Spurs here. I warn you, though, this one might not be in the form of a PDF. It might be just be a video of a bowl of spaghetti being flung into a ceiling fan.