It really wasn’t Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard or Paul George or CJ McCollum who decided Thursday night’s donnybrook in Moda Center.
It was whistles. Referees’ whistles.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there were bad calls or either team got the shaft. I’m just saying that the NBA is pretty well known for letting players decide the outcome of games inside the final few minutes.
But those whistles kept blowing. And those guys packing whistles had a lot to say about how strange this game turned out.
“It was a hell of game,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “It went back and forth, both teams were going at it – a physical game. The difference was overtime. I don’t know if there was much of a difference in the first four quarters. Both teams made big shots. Neither team really got it going from the three.”
And in one of the most controversial games you’d ever want to witness, Oklahoma City outlasted the Trail Blazers 129-121 in overtime.
But the final minute of the fourth quarter was crazy, as Portland fought back from a seven-point deficit with nine minutes to go.
Damian Lillard hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 111 with 45 seconds to play. Terrance Ferguson then scored on an offensive rebound to put the Thunder back up by a bucket with 13.1 to go.
On the play, Jusuf Nurkic got nailed by an elbow from Paul George – possibly a flagrant foul but certainly a foul of some sort.
But with Nurkic on the floor trying to recover, the Blazers had to spend two timeouts, awaiting their center to recover and the game officials to do a video review of the play.
But that review never came.
Speaking to a pool reporter after the game, crew chief Ed Malloy said the play was not reviewed for a hostile act, “Because there wasn’t a foul called on the play. There wasn’t a trigger to go to replay.”
And 20,037 screaming maniacs screaming their heads off as they watched the play on the scoreboard screen didn’t matter a bit. Sorry, folks.
Well, with as many replays as we are seeing in games, I am not sure I always see a foul call as a “trigger,” but I’ll go with it – even though it means they apparently aren’t allowed to set straight a call they missed in live action.
The Trail Blazers, now out of timeouts, went to the other end and Damian Lillard missed a 12-footer, but Jusuf Nurkic got the rebound and was fouled.
But Nurkic reacted after the foul by making contact with Paul George enough to get George to react, too. If George hadn’t reacted, it’s doubtful that a technical would have been called on Nurkic. But since he did, the referees decided on their old standby – the double technical foul.
And that resulted in Nurkic’s ejection because it was his second one, having gotten a technical at 3:15 of the second quarter when replay showed him tripping Westbrook. Allegedly. And that one came after a flagrant foul on Westbrook for knocking Nurkic down.
I guess triggers are where you find them, even if it means running the video back a few seconds past the foul that was called on the court.
At any rate, because Nurkic was booted out, Thunder Coach Billy Donovan was allowed to choose any Portland player to shoot the free throws.
Naturally, Donovan reached down to the end of the bench and picked seldom-used center Skal Labissiere to go to the line with 4.4 to go.
Labissiere missed the first foul shot and then intentionally missed the second. And miraculously, Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the rebound, sending him to the line with 2.9 to go. He calmly drained both free throws to tie it.
I’m not sure if Aminu was fouled or not but I’m very sure you aren’t going to get that call very often in an NBA game, even if somebody knocks a player down.
Payback for not looking at the Nurkic play? Who knows?
Then the game got even wackier when Westbrook lost the ball off an inbounds pass to give Portland a chance to win with 1.9 seconds left.
But without a timeout, the Blazers couldn’t move the ball to front court and Lillard’s heave had no chance.
The overtime was no contest. The Blazers had nothing left.
The game had a heaping helping of playground in it. Each team ended up with only 14 assists as one-on-one play and missed three-point shots dominated the night.
Lillard played 47:20 and was terrific – scoring 51 points. Westbrook had 37 points, seven rebounds, three assists and eight turnovers, but the last laugh when his team finished the season with a sweep of the Trail Blazers.