“You pretty stunned when Jason (Phillips, the ref) doesn’t call that when Kawhi (Leonard) tries to foul (Russell Westbrook)?”
That’s what was asked of Gregg Popovich on the post-game podium, and his answer goes a long way towards explaining why we’re not going to pin too much of Game 5’s outcome on the refs, despite how obvious some missed calls looked on the television screen. (And, most especially, how they looked when slowed down in multiple angles and replays.)
“He fouled him,” Popovich answered. “It’s pretty obvious he fouled him. But, every call isn’t called. That’s the way the game is.”
He’s talking about the foul Kawhi Leonard tried to take on Russ with under 10 seconds to play and the Thunder up by three. And he’s right.
It was obvious Kawhi intentionally fouled Russ well before his shot, but Westbrook was still awarded the bucket and a foul on LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs got beat at home, 95-91. They now trail the Thunder, 3-2, in a series heading back to Oklahoma City for a Game 6 on Thursday that could be their last in a season cut excruciatingly short.
But the white-bearded tactician patrolling the San Antonio sideline has always kept his team from the pleating, post-game chatter about the officiating that’s become the norm this time of year. The Spurs have always handled themselves with some form of grace in victory and defeat, so we don’t feel weird encouraging people to copy their example.
Except, more than any benevolence, a strong moral fiber, or whatever other claptrap we might trot out to compliment a losing team who got the short end of the stick on three late-game calls, Popovich’s guys also gave up too many offensive rebounds; they couldn’t contain Russ or Enes Kanter near the rim; Tony Parker didn’t hit any pull-up jumpers in the final minute; LaMarcus Aldridge’s left hook appeared magnetized towards the iron of the rim, and they didn’t go to Kawhi enough down the stretch.
The cold efficiency of the Spurs has escaped them in this series against the Thunder, and they again lost a late lead — 13 at one point in the third quarter, and a six-point lead with four minutes left in the fourth — to fall at home on Tuesday night. They’ve now lost more games at home in this series than they did for the entirety of the 2015-16 regular season — when they tied the ’86 Celtics after going 40-1 at the AT&T Center.
But Kawhi’s ignored foul wasn’t the only slip-up by the officials. With a little under a minute to play and the score knotted at 90, Danny Green appeared to fall at the feet of a jump-shooting Kevin Durant. Green was whistled for the foul. Except, Popovich and Green were irate about the call. Upon seeing a replay, it’s clear Steven Adams sticks his foot behind him to trip up Green as he’s trailing Durant around the Stevens screen.
Green is tripped, and that’s what led to the foul.
Here’s another angle:
If we keep going, there was another call that was pretty obviously missed when looking at it again. But this one didn’t come in the final minute. With four minutes left in the fourth, when Kawhi got a steal and took it all the way to the other end for a dunk over Russell Westbrook, he was actually fouled.
Russ slapped Kawhi upside the head, and it should have been a bucket plus the foul.
All of this is pointless, though, and Popovich made that clear with his answer after the game.
Like Meursault when he’s looking at the Mediterranean through iron bars, life can be pretty pointless on occasion. These gripes about Game 5 aren’t as insubstantial as the afterlife (or the Judeo-Christian notion of one), but they also shouldn’t take away from what the Thunder did on Tuesday night, either.
Oklahoma City is now one more home win away from shocking the favored Spurs and advancing to their fourth conference final of the Westbrook/Durant era. We just wish we hadn’t seen all those replays. It’s easy to practice what Popovich preaches in the abstract, but a lot harder to do in reality. We’d tell Spurs fans not to bug out too much over the late-game calls, which will be noted in tomorrow’s two-minute report. Popovich is already preparing for Game 6. We should, too.