The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled out an impressive and critical Game 5 win over the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night to take a 3-2 series lead.
While the Thunder were carried by a heroic effort from Russell Westbrook and a stingy defence, the buzz is once again about a missed call in the waning moments of the game.
With the Thunder up by one with just over nine seconds left, they inbounded the ball with the Spurs prepared to foul (sound familiar?). Westbrook caught the ball while heading toward the baseline, made a quick cut to the basket, scored a layup, and got fouled.
He hit the free throw to put the Thunder up four with six seconds left.
However, a replay showed that Kawhi Leonard fouled Westbrook almost as soon as he caught the ball.
It’s evident upon the replay that Leonard tried to wrap Westbrook up.
This, of course, didn’t change the outcome of the game, but rather, Westbrook’s three-point play dramatically changed the Spurs’ scheme for those final six seconds.
Had the initial foul been called, Westbrook would have gone to the free throw line for two shots. There would be great pressure to hit both, but assuming he did, the Spurs would have faced a three-point deficit, with a little over eight seconds remaining, and three timeouts. They could have called timeout, set up a play, and attempted a three to tie the game. They even could have gone for a quick two, fouled again, then repeated the process and tried to tie the game.
Instead, the Thunder went up four, the Spurs called timeout, and Leonard missed a three-pointer. The Thunder won.
It’s the second time in this dramatic series that referees missed a crucial call down the stretch. In Game 2, the Thunder won after Dion Waiters shoved Manu Ginobili on the inbound pass with 13 seconds left. That was just the most noteworthy foul, however, as the NBA admitted after that the refs missed five infractions in the final sequence.
The Spurs can’t blame the refs in either case — they had their chances to win. Still, nobody wants to see an excellent series between two great teams have an asterisk next to it because refs missed important calls. The Thunder now get a chance to wrap up the series at home in Game 6 on Thursday.
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