Some way, somehow, the Oklahoma City Thunder clawed their way back to within two points in the final seconds of Game 2 on Thursday night.
With 12 seconds on the clock, everyone in sold out Chesapeake Energy Arena knew where the ball was going — to Kevin Durant, the NBA’s scoring champion whose second-half offensive explosion turned a runaway Miami Heat victory into a nail-biter.
Durant, guarded by LeBron James, went hard to the baseline, pulled up just inside the lane and released a jumper as he faded away from the hoop — and from the physical defense of James.
The ball hit front rim, James tipped it and then corralled the rebound while Durant held up his hands appealing for a whistle that never came. James hit the ensuing two free throws to Miami’s 100-96 win to even the series.
Replays clearly show James’ arm underneath Durant’s right arm and against his chest as Durant elevates with the ball and then coming down on Durant’s thigh.
So was it a foul? Was it a good non-call? Or was it simply too close to call at that point in the game?
Whether you believe a referee should swallow his or her whistle in the final moments to let the players — not a call — decide the outcome, or you feel the officials should call the game the same way for the full 48 minutes, one thing is clear: if the Thunder didn’t dig themselves into an 18-2 hole to start the game, they may not have found themselves begging for a call in the final seconds.
After the game, Durant said he got the shot he wanted, and to his credit, made no mention of the contact from James.
“I think I shot a good shot. That’s a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed,” he said. “I missed the shot, man.”
One blown call (if that’s your take) doesn’t account for the Thunder missing 10 of its first 11 shots and then being forced to play catch up for the second consecutive game. It’s a troubling trend that began in the Western Conference finals and could cost Oklahoma City if it can’t get into the game from the outset when the series shifts to Miami this weekend. The Thunder’s top scoring trio of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden also didn’t help themselves by missing several key free throws down the stretch. The three combined to shoot 14 of 20 from the line while James was a perfect 12 for 12.
“I love the way we came back and fought,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said, “but it’s tough to come back from 17 points. When you get down by 17, too many things have to happen well for you and perfect for you. We’ve got to come out better.”