The only drama following the Spurs’ Game 1 blowout of the Thunder was found in the theoretical storyline of how an uneven Western Conference Semifinals could prove to be the unofficial death march of the Kevin Durant era in Oklahoma City. Game 2 has given us an entirely different conversation.
Not about Durant and Russell Westbrook bouncing back with big games and huge shots. Not about the series suddenly being tied heading back up the interstate. Not about LaMarcus Aldridge following a 38-point game with a 41-point game. No, Game 2 will always be remembered for the insanity of the final 13.5 seconds. Inbounds violations, multiple fouls, an open look for what could’ve resulted in a miraculous Spurs win, and what appeared to be a fan grabbing onto Steven Adams’ arm — the final sequence would’ve only been more ridiculous if the officials decided to run on the floor and start clotheslining people.
Still, of all the questionable moments in the scramble, Dion Waiters’ elbow to the chest of Manu Ginobili during an inbounding situation — the moment that ignited the madness — is receiving the most attention.
“I was trying to rip the ball and he kind of created room with his elbow, but things happen,” Ginobili said. “It’s a very awkward play, doesn’t happen very often, so I guess they didn’t see it.
“With all that, we complain about that because that’s what we do. We had the ball. We had a great shot.”
It turns out it’s not only the players who felt it was awkward. Ken Mauer met with pool reporter Mike Monroe of The Rivard Report to discuss the apparent missed call.
“On the floor, we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree that we should have had an offensive foul on the play,” he said “It’s a play that we have never seen before, ever, but we feel we should have had an offensive foul on Waiters.”
Whatever the last-two-minutes report reveals Tuesday will offer a smorgasbord of ammo for each fan base, but none of it will matter. Thunder fans will remain relieved while Spurs fans will be left to wallow for three full days off.
But, to preview what questions may come:
1) The Waiters situation has already been addressed, so there’s that.
2) Was Ginobili illegally defending the inbounds pass?
3) Not only did Waiters push Ginobili, he jumped in order to pass the ball. By the letter of the law this seems to be a violation.
4) As Kawhi is chasing Russell Westbrook around, he clearly grabs the back of his jersey while Russ makes an effort to get back to the ball.
5) Did Danny Green foul Kevin Durant following Waiters’ pass toward midcourt?
6) As the chaotic final moments unfolded, did Steven Adams foul Patty Mills on his 3-point attempt?
7) Adams was then clearly grabbed on the arm by a person sitting in the crowd. What do you even do with that?
8) Finally, was Aldridge fouled on his final attempt? There is damning evidence.
The next few days will bring us information, both wanted and unwanted, depending on who you are. But there is reason to talk about the game itself, which was quite entertaining.
Steven Adams’ Final Effort
Lost in the aftermath is the play of the Thunder big man in that final set of events. His recovery following the OKC turnover led Green to have to lob the ball over the top rather than direct an easy pass for a run-out basket. He then sprinted back to deter Mills from attempting a shot at the rim, and succeeded before doing the exact same thing to Ginobili, who said afterward he felt he didn’t have the shot. And if that’s not enough, he ran out and disrupted Mills’ 3-point attempt from the corner.
It wasn’t just maniacal effort; Adams showed elite defensive instinct in that final sequence.
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Monster
As impressive as the Spurs’ prize free agent was in Game 1, he was even more dominant Monday. The Thunder took away his open looks out of the pick-and-pop action he felt so comfortable with during Saturday’s beat-down, forcing him to post up and isolate. And Aldridge was dominant, going for 41 points on 15-of-21 shooting just two nights after dropping 38 on 18-of-23 from the floor.
But this time, they dared him to be physical. They forced him away from those spot-ups he hits with his eyes closed. The Thunder threw Serge Ibaka at him, and LMA would bludgeon him in the post (though they began to throw double-teams late in fights. Ugh. They threw Adams at him, and Aldridge would hit him with that patented turnaround fall-away. He’s been absolutely spectacular.
And yet, there seems to be a question, one of the chicken-or-the-egg variety. The Spurs seemed stagnant at times Monday. They got off to a bad start, missing a lot of shots in close. That can have a carryover effect. The Spurs went to Aldridge often when they needed a basket, including several stretches where literally every play was a post-up for the big man. So, as for that chicken-and-egg question: Did the Spurs’ lack of rhythm lead to more Aldridge post-ups, or did all those Aldridge post-ups lead to a lack of rhythm?
Thunder Pick-and-Roll Defense
Night and day. For some odd reason, the Thunder were willing to allow the pick-and-pop with Aldridge on Saturday. Perhaps “allow” isn’t the correct word in this case, but they sure as hell gave the Spurs’ best big shooter easy opportunities.
Oklahoma City made the obvious adjustment Monday, sticking with the screener at almost every turn and not allowing good looks off the ‘pop’ action. With all the attention they paid Aldridge — and this is getting to the point where watching aging can be depressing — they let Duncan pick-and-roll early and often. Their ability to recover with youth and athleticism was clearly something they’d considered.
The Thunder were OK letting Duncan catch the ball in space, because they felt he couldn’t get to the basket more quickly than they could. That’s conjecture on my part, but that’s what it looked like — that they were just waiting to hunt down the blocked shots. Timmy couldn’t finish with the room he thought he had.
That Final Play
There will be an outcry — there’s already been an outcry — over whether the Spurs were screwed in Game 2. Isn’t there an argument that says they got a better shot than they could’ve asked for out of a possible timeout?
San Antonio had the advantage during a broken play, and Mills ended up with a great look at the basket. Despite everything questionable that happened, the Spurs had a chance that anyone would take in a last-ditch effort like that. Should a foul have been called somewhere down the line? Probably. That still doesn’t change the fact San Antonio had as good a chance as any to steal the game.
The Series Ahead
Gregg Popovich has mentioned it over the years: At about the midway point of the series, there are no more adjustments to make. By that point, each team knows the other, and there’s only so much you can do. We haven’t quite reached that point yet.
Oklahoma City fixed some massive problems that arose in Game 1, but with three days off in between games, we’re bound to see moves made from Pop and Co. Billy Donovan threw a lot of different looks at the Spurs Monday night, and you could say it paid off. But we don’t know yet if this is just throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks.
Only time will tell, as this series moves north.