It was a memorable sequence for a variety of reasons – one that included several possible violations and fouls, none of which were called. And, in a strange twist that basically didn’t matter, San Antonio got a chance to take the lead in the final moments.
Here’s how those final seconds played out, including thoughts from virtually everyone involved in the play, which you can see in its entirety below:
After LaMarcus Aldridge was fouled by Serge Ibaka on a three-pointer and made all three free throws to pull San Antonio within 98-97, the Thunder called its final timeout. Coach Billy Donovan had Dion Waiters inbound the ball on the sideline.
As referee Marc Davis handed Waiters the ball and began counting off five seconds, Waiters knew, with no timeouts left, that he had to get the ball inbounds.
“Man, to be honest with you, I was caught up in the game,” Waiters said. “I don’t really know what happened, to be honest with you.
“My whole thing was trying to get the ball in there with no timeouts.”
As Waiters moved perilously close to committing a five-second infraction, he appeared to panic. First, he used his arm to push Manu Ginobili, who was defending him on the play, away from him to create enough space to inbound the ball.
“I was trying to rip the ball, and he kind of created room with his elbow,” Ginobili said. “But things happen. It’s a very awkward play, doesn’t happen very often, so I guess they didn’t see it.
“I don’t know what it is, to tell you the truth, what type of violation it is. It had to be something.”
It turned out to be something, as crew chief Ken Mauer said to a pool reporter after Monday’s game that Waiters had committed an offensive foul on the play, and the ball should’ve been given to San Antonio.
“On the floor we did not see a foul on the play,” Mauer said. “However, upon review, we realize and we agree we should have [called] an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”
Waiters then committed a second violation – he jumped in the air to make the pass, which an inbounder is not allowed to do.
Waiters contended that Ginobili had committed his own violation: stepping over the out-of-bounds line.
“I didn’t really get a look at it,” Waiters said. “But hopefully they’re going to look at it and they’ll see he stepped out and it should’ve been a tech, too, but it’s not up to me.
“If you go look at it, you’ll see. It should’ve been a tech and the ball back. But when they go look at it and they’ll figure it out, and they’ll see the truth, it’s a play on.”
What was unclear was whether Ginobili stepped over the line (he appeared to step on it, which is apparently allowed, but not over it, which is not). And it’s also unclear if Ginobili gave Waiters enough room to inbound the ball.
Waiters eventually lobbed the ball into Kevin Durant at center court – where he was being guarded by Spurs guard Danny Green. For some reason, though, the game clock started before anyone touched the ball, meaning an extra half-second went off before Durant’s hands got on it.
“I thought maybe they would call something [on Waiters],” Green said. “I wasn’t sure. I was trying to see where he was going, I tried to deny. [Then] I thought maybe he would call timeout, and I was just at that one point, once you deny, I was trying to play safety.
“I could see where [Waiters] was looking, and I thought maybe we would’ve got a call, but we didn’t. But he threw it up, and I just went to try to go get it.”
As Durant fell to the ground, it appeared Green may have gotten a piece of him as he poked the ball away. But after Green hesitated for a moment — only to realize nothing was going to be called — he immediately began to seek an opportunity to press his advantage.
Once Green had the ball, he saw two people ahead of him — Thunder center Steven Adams and Spurs guard Patty Mills. Green tried to loop the ball over Adams’s head to Mills, but his pass was long, forcing Mills to almost go under the basket to catch it. On top of that, Green had missed Ginobili streaking past him on his right. If he had seen him, it would’ve resulted in a simple 2-on-1 and a likely layup for the Spurs.
“I saw Adams in front of me. I didn’t know if they called [a foul] or not, but I wanted to make sure I got the ball first,” Green said. “But I saw Adams in front of me, I saw Patty, and [Adams] is a big body so I just tried to throw it over top of him.
“It was a lofty pass, it wasn’t a good one, and it took some time to get there, but I didn’t have a chance to see who was to the right of me, and it was Manu.”
After Mills wound up with the ball under the basket, he swung it over to Ginobili, who had run past Green and back into the play. From there, Ginobili dribbled into the lane — where Adams was there again, standing between Ginobili and the basket.
“We were just trying to inbound it and then it was just a scramble, mate,” Adams said. “I just tried to do the best I could.
“The team did, scrambling, and contest everything. We got lucky. We got really lucky.”
So Ginobili, in typical dramatic fashion, flipped a pass over his head right to Mills, who had hustled to the corner, for what appeared to be a wide-open three-pointer.
“[Patty] threw it to me, and I didn’t think I had an open look, so I just tried to bait towards the middle to let Patty get to the corner,” Ginobili said.
But Adams, making yet another absolutely spectacular play, raced across the court, leaped in the air and contested Mills’s shot — causing it to fall well short of the hoop.
“I don’t know, man,” Adams said when asked if he affected Mills’s shot. “I saw the pass and did my best to contest it. I don’t know if I influenced his shot, but I’ll take it.”
This is where the real insanity begins.
As Mills’s shot fell short, a battle broke out under the basket, with players from both teams descending on the rim to get their hands on the ball. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka found himself between both Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and was doing whatever he could to keep either one of them from grabbing a loose ball for a potential game-winning offensive rebound and putback.
“I knew it was the last minute, and I had to give everything I had,” Ibaka said. “I had to give everything I had for my team, you know?
“I knew it was very important, so I got up against Leonard. .. I had to choose which one and so I bumped him a little bit, and when I saw Leonard had the ball, I tried to tip the ball and go Aldridge’s way.”
What Ibaka actually did, as the above picture shows, was grab Aldridge’s jersey and nearly rip it off his body. He basically never let go, as Aldridge tried to corral the ball and go back up with it, ensuring Aldridge — who finished with 41 points — never had a real chance to make a game-winning basket.
“I thought I had the ball,” Aldridge said. “I thought [Ibaka] had a good chunk of my jersey. I thought there were some things happening that maybe shouldn’t have happened.
“But it’s over now. You can’t keep harping on it.”
“Those are the kind of plays, you have to make them nasty,” Ibaka said. “You have to make them nasty, to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Meanwhile, Adams found himself in another situation when, after barreling past Mills to contest his three-point attempt, he had his arm held by a fan as he tried to climb back onto the court and potentially get back into the action.
To be fair, it looked like a woman Adams ran over as he contested the shot was simply trying to get back on her feet. But it wound up being a fitting final moment to what was an insane final 13.5 seconds of Game 2.
For all of the potential controversy about the result, however, one thing isn’t changing: the Thunder came away with the victory, and despite the no-calls on both sides, the Spurs still had their chances to win the game.
“It’s not the play that decided anything,” Ginobili said, “because we got the steal, we got the shot, we got an offensive rebound.
“It doesn’t matter, and it’s over. I’m not going to be able to change it. Nobody’s going to change it. We’ve got to try to go to [Oklahoma City] and try to win a game.”
That may be true. But it won’t stop the next three days from being an endless debate about the merits of these final seconds of Game 2, and how everything on all sides — from the way both teams played it to how the referees called it — was handled from start to finish.