From Serge Ibaka fouling LaMarcus Aldridge on a three to Dion Waiters pushing Manu Ginobili during an inbounds play, the Oklahoma City Thunder teetered on combustibility during the final 15 seconds of their 98-97 Game 2 win in San Antonio on Monday.
On the one hand, you have to give the Thunder credit for winning in San Antonio – something only the Golden State Warriors did this season. On the other hand, the Thunder’s late-game blunders are a major cause for concern going forward.
“That’s what you wonder about Oklahoma City,” CBSSports.com NBA writer Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “They’re so talented, and they’re a much better offensive team this year under Billy Donovan than they were under Scotty Brooks. There’s no question (that) when you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you are going to be in a lot of games. But when you’re in the postseason and you’re playing a team like San Antonio, you can’t just be good and talented; you have to be smart. That was a big mistake there. To not be able to get a clean inbounds in a situation like that – you just wonder about Oklahoma City. We understand it’s the playoffs, it’s a pressure situation. But the good teams, the championship-contending teams, they make the right and the smart play and the best decision more often than not – and I don’t see Oklahoma City in that category right now.”
While many people are focusing on the non-call that favored Oklahoma City in the closing seconds, there were also a few non-calls that favored San Antonio. In the end, Berger didn’t mind the refs swallowing their whistles.
“I’ve watched that sequence over and over again,” he said. “There were so many things that could have been called. I kind of feel like at the end of the day, it was best just to not call anything. I don’t know what to call. Just let them play it out. Yeah, did Waiters give (Ginobili) a shiver with the forearm? Of course hd did. And it wasn’t so much Ginobili stepping over the line. He was reaching over the sideline. That’s a violation. That could have been a free throw and the ball. So if you’re going to complain on one end that Waiters should have been called for the offensive foul, what precipitated that was Ginobili reaching over the sideline. That’s a violation. Kawhi Leonard was grabbing Russell Westbrook’s jersey before the ball came inbounds in the last two minutes. That is a free throw and the ball.There were so many things that could have happened there. I think it was probably the best thing just to let them play it out and everybody comes back now and we have a few days before Game 3 in Oklahoma City.”
Brandon Tierney sees where Berger is coming from, but he thinks the referees should have called the first infraction they saw. Otherwise, why have a rule book? Berger would normally agree, but Monday’s end-of-game sequence was unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
“Are you going to call eight things or no things?” Berger asked. “Look, in basketball, you get the ball in, it’s a mad scramble and you play it out. That’s what happened.”
Looking at the East, meanwhile, the Hawks blew a golden opportunity in Cleveland on Monday, falling to the Cavs, 104-93. It’s only one game in a seven-game series, sure.
But this was different.
“You never like to overreact to the outcome of the first game in a playoff series because so many things can happen,” Berger said. “Look what happened (with) OKC and San Antonio. There was a temptation to write the Thunder’s obit there after that blowout, and lo and behold, they come back and win Game 2. Because the Hawks got swept by this team in the conference finals last year, I kind of viewed this as a continuation of that series. The Hawks were just never able to hit Cleveland with any kind of adversity and (I wanted) to see how they would respond. That was their mission going into this series, and they had every opportunity to do that. The Cavs weren’t really tested very much in the first round against the Pistons, they’ve been kind of sailing along and the Hawks had a chance to steal one. And when you have that opportunity and you go 0-for-3 with six turnovers down the stretch after they had taken a one-point lead, that’s devastating. Those are the things that come back to haunt you. The Cavs were a little rusty, maybe their condoning wasn’t on point after a seven- or eight-day layoff following their first-round series. You have to believe they’re going to be more locked in from here on out. I just felt like this was Atlanta’s chance to make this series interesting and to hit the Cavs in the mouth and see how they’d respond. And they blew it.”