There’s an old saying referring to sports in general which falls in nicely with the mayhem of the finish during game 2 of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder playoff series.
It goes like this, more or less: If both sides leave the court/pitch/field angry about the officials, it means they probably did a good job. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes it’s complete BS.
The referees didn’t do a good job as the Thunder bounced back from a horrible opening game to win 98-97 in San Antonio. The 13 second finish included Manu Ginobili stepping on the line and going out of bounds while Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball. It included Waiters hitting/shoving Ginobili to get a clear vision. It included a Spurs fan pulling on the arm of Steven Adams with two seconds remaining. It included a bunch of referees not calling anything, getting too caught up in the mayhem.
So what did they get wrong? Ginobili stepped over the line which could have been a technical foul. Kawhi Leonard pulling on Russell Westbrook’s jersey during that inbound play. Waiters handling Ginobili with his forearm. Waiters jumping while trying to inbound the ball. The clock starting without anyone touching the ball. Danny Green fouling Kevin Durant on the catch attempt. The fan grabbing Adams. LaMarcus Aldridge fouled underneath the basket. It wasn’t about the referees trying not to interfere with the finish. It was the referees not doing their job.
When the game was over, the Waiters violations were what the media mostly focused on. Gregg Popovich was acting as if he was bamboozled by the officials. But he also said the Spurs lost because of their disorder on offense. They got 41 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, with the Thunder realizing something: They can’t stop him, but they can channel everything towards him, and make it difficult on everyone else. Aldridge shot 15-for-21 from the field. The rest of the Spurs shot just 25-for-73, 34.2%. Even against a less than sophisticated Thunder team, that’s not close to enough.
On the other side it was more of the usual: Westbrook and Durant scoring 57 combined points while Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams do a lot of the dirty work, including Adams making some great defensive moves on that final possession to deny the Spurs a good shot, although it had a lot to do with San Antonio looking clueless with the ball, like their entire game. Even Waiters pitched in with a huge three in the end.
Are the Thunder favorites now? Probably not. If the Spurs were this bad (or the Thunder made them look this bad) and were still one shot away from winning the game, they’re still probably the better team. The word adjustments comes to mind now, and seeing whether Popovich can find out why his team looked so bad and how he can change that in time for game 3.