By Michael Kinney
Dion Waiters and Kim Kardashian have something in common. Both of them came close to breaking twitter.
While Kardashian has done it with some creative photos, Waiters did it with a single play in the finals seconds of the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-97 win over the San Antonio Spurs Monday night.
With 15 seconds left, and the Thunder leading by one, Waiters only job was to throw the ball inbounds. For 47 minutes that is usually not that tough of a task. But in the final minute of a playoffs game, when the pressure is at a high level, it can feel like throwing a ball of fire.
As the seconds ticked off the clock, Waiters couldn’t find anyone. Then at the last second he threw a high pass to Kevin Durant, who was being guarded closely by Danny Green. Durant was unable to get his hands on it and Green stole it.
The Spurs had chances to win the game. But a long 3-point shot from Patty Mills was off target and the Thunder survived to tie the series at 1-1 and hand the Spurs only their second home loss of the season.
That is the sanitized version. What actually happened was much more epic and controversial. While Waiters was trying to throw the ball inbounds, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili got too close for comfort and Waiters used his elbow to clear him out.
“To be honest, I was caught up in the game,” Waiters said. “I really don’t know what happened. I was just trying to get the ball inbounds with no timeouts. They can say what they want, that’s all it’s about.”
The refs admitted afterward they blew the non-call.
“On the floor, we did not see a foul on the play,” crew chief Ken Mauer said. “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.”
If the refs had called an offensive foul, it would have been the Spurs ball. There is no guarantee they would have had better looks than the ones they got after the steal, but that didn’t seem to make a difference to the San Antonio fans or TNT commentator Chris Webber.
Yet, the Spurs said all the right things after the game.
“I was trying to pressure the ball and he kind of created room with his elbow,” Ginobili said. “It’s a very awkward play. Doesn’t happen very often. We complain about, because that’s what we do. But we had the ball, we had a great shot. We had other opportunities. Things happen.”
When Ginobili was asked if he felt the game had been stolen from them, he said no.
Thunder fans pointed out that throughout the night that before Waiters used his elbow to make room, Ginobili had stepped over the out of bounds line and that should have been a technical foul. Maurer was not asked about that after the game. But Waiters was asked.
“If you look at it you’ll see it should have been a tech and a ball back,” Waiters said. “When they go look at it they’ll see the truth. It’s play on. They got the ball back. We came up with one hell of a stop at the end.”
Waiters is right. They got the stop at the end. Part of that was due to center Steven Adams flying out to defend Mills’ 3-point shot, which was a brick. However, as Adams was getting back into the play, video appeared to show him being grabbed by a Spurs fan by the arm as the action continued.
That was also not called.
The final 20 seconds had great plays, bad non calls and an amazing finish. Everything that makes for a compelling series. Basketball fans can only hope we see more of it the rest of the series, which starts back up with Game 3 Friday in Oklahoma City.