The end of Game 4 between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder was a slog. Houston won, 113-109, but this game will be remembered for the missed calls and absolutely horrific execution by both teams down the stretch.
Let’s start with the biggest mistake the Rockets made. They were up by four and Steven Adams was at the free throw line. He missed his second shot from the charity stripe, but for some reason, he wasn’t boxed out by anyone. So after a fortuitous bounce, Adams got his own rebound, turned around, and just happened to find a wide open Russell Westbrook for three.
This made it a one point game with just under 20 seconds remaining. Obviously, this means that most teams would immediately foul, make their opponent earn two points at the free throw line, and not let much time bleed off the clock.
Oklahoma City chose Option No. 2: Let the Rockets get the ball all the way down court, waste seven seconds, and foul Nene while he was in the act of shooting. Nene made the shot – he had a career playoff high 28 points on 12-for-12 shooting on the night – and knocked down the free throw to make it a four-point game again.
The Thunder somewhat made up for it on the other end, as Alex Abrines tipped in a Westbrook miss and made it a two-point Rockets lead. Then, on the ensuing inbound, we had some legitimately horrific officiating.
James Harden pushed off of Abrines to receive an inbound pass. The pass went a little long, and Westbrook just barely missed pulling off the steal and having a mostly clear path to the lane for a potential game-tying layup. Instead, the ball went into the hands of Eric Gordon, who was fouled and iced the game at the line.
Still, this was pretty bad from the officials. You can argue that Abrines oversold it a little, but Harden put his hands on Abrines’ chest and pushed off to get open, which is as blatant of a foul as you’ll see.
Not every basketball game is perfect, of course, but this was still brutal. Things like the missed call against Harden are inexcusable from the refs, while the failure to box out Adams on a free throw and Oklahoma City’s inability to foul were perplexing, to say the least. Even Harden told ABC’s Lisa Salters after the game that all of this was really, really bad.
The series is heading back to Houston for Game 5 on Tuesday, and hopefully that one features a more … well-executed ending.