Another Spurs-Thunder playoff game ended in a no-call controversy

The Oklahoma City Thunder holding a late lead over the San Antonio Spurs in the closing seconds of a playoff game at AT&T Center. Dion Waiters inbounding. Manu Ginobili defending. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well, as it turned out, not quite as much as went wrong in Game 2 ... but from the perspective of the Spurs and their fans watching Tuesday's Game 5 with bated breath, still too much.

After Tony Parker missed a jumper that would've put San Antonio back on top, the Thunder had the ball with a 92-91 lead and 9.3 seconds remaining. This time, the inbounds itself wasn't the issue, as Waiters was able to cleanly pass the ball to cutting teammate Russell Westbrook. After Westbrook caught the ball, though ... that's where it got interesting.

Spurs star Kawhi Leonard lunged to foul Westbrook, hoping to stop the clock, extend the game, send the All-Star point guard to the foul line, and get San Antonio the ball back with a chance to either tie or, depending on how Russell shot at the stripe, maybe even win it. But despite Leonard appearing to pretty clearly wrap Westbrook up around the waist after the catch, no whistles blew.

The Spurs seemed to relax, expecting the play to be stopped and wondering why it hadn't been. Westbrook, ever the hard-charging opportunist, simply continued his curl to the cup, where he twirled in a layup around a half-hearted contest by San Antonio big man LaMarcus Aldridge. He was called for a foul on the shot, sending Russ to the line with a chance for a 3-point play; he converted the and-one, giving OKC a 95-91 lead that would hold up for the final 6.3 seconds, sending the Thunder back home with a chance to eliminate the Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday.

As you might expect — especially considering all the attention given the insane finish to, and officiating post-mortem of, Game 2 — the Hoped-For Foul That Wasn't was a popular topic of conversation after the game.

Westbrook: "I just keep going until the whistle blows. My job is to stay in attack mode, and then, when they didn't blow the whistle, my job is to keep going to the basket."

Leonard: "I definitely fouled him. But the referee, I guess, he didn't see it, and you know, you've just got to keep playing through it."

Danny Green: "At the end of the game, we were obviously looking to get a steal, and if not, I think we tried to put it in the referee's mind — I don't know if they spoke to him or not, but we tell them either [we want a] timeout if they get a score, or [we're going to] foul, so that they're looking for it. I don't know if they spoke to the referees or not, but we were looking to get a steal or a foul, and I think when Manu and Kawhi had him in the corner, it looked like from my angle that they wrapped him up. But I'm not sure. I don't know what he'd seen on the baseline. That's his job, not mine, to decide whether or not it was a foul. Obviously, he didn't see one."

It is safe to say that Green's a bit more of a talker than either Kawhi or Gregg Popovich, who was characteristically terse in his post-Game 5 comments.

"He fouled him," Pop said. "It was pretty obvious he fouled him. But, you know, every call doesn't get called. That's the way the game is. I was more concerned about the play before that, with Durant's shot."

Oh, right: that.

With just under a minute remaining in the fourth and the score tied at 90, Green — who has done yeoman's work on the defensive end all season long, and has had his hands full trying to slow down whichever of OKC's monster scoring wings he's drawn throughout this series — tried to stay attached to Kevin Durant on the baseline. Durant stepped into the paint, and then jetted back to his left to cut toward the ball, which Westbrook was dribbling up top.

Green reacted, leaned to his right, and found himself colliding with bruising Thunder screen-setter Steven Adams. As he turned around Adams, though, Green lost his footing and tumbled into Durant's legs in the act of shooting, causing a whistle that sent KD to the line for two free throws; he'd make them both, putting OKC up by two with 54.7 seconds left.

As soon as the whistle blew, Green was clearly livid, pleading his case to whichever official was within earshot. Teammate Tim Duncan did the same, indicating that Adams might have gone a bit above and beyond in setting the screen to send Green skidding into Durant's legs.

The replays confirmed that there was indeed some additional action on the back end of the screen, with Adams stepping his left leg way back and into the path Green was trying to travel to close down the distance on Durant:

This play, too, was a topic of conversation after the game, with Green asked if he believed Adams stuck that big left leg out on purpose.

"Is that a trick question?" he replied with a smile. "I don't know if it was intentional. I didn't see the replay clear enough. I just know that he does a good job of setting screens for them. Sometimes the refs see. Sometimes they don't. You know, he gives a little extra, but that's what he's supposed to do, and on that particular play, he did a good job of clearing out [...] and I tried to chase KD around the screen.

"My leg came out from under me. I'm pretty sure it was his foot. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the reason why I fouled Durant was the domino effect of being tripped."

Having what appeared to be two incorrect calls go against them in the final 60 seconds of a critical Game 5 in a tied series against a really good opponent is, well, not what the Spurs and their fans are looking for. But, as ever, it's typically a drastic oversimplification to chalk up success or failure to one or two whistles that go one way or the other.

Spurs fans pointing fingers at the zebras would do well to save some for Aldridge's 6-for-21 shooting performance. Or for the inability to finish defensive possessions, resulting in OKC pulling down 15 offensive rebounds, including four big ones in the fourth quarter, as the combination of size (Adams and Enes Kanter again made their presence felt) and aggression (Westbrook was out there grabbing rebounds over the top of David West's head) simply overwhelmed San Antonio's more groundbound interior players.

Or for Popovich's decision to roll with an all-bench lineup — West, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson — that OKC outscored by eight points in five minutes of floor time at the ends of the first and third quarters, helping erase what had been a 12-point lead midway through the third and get the Thunder within one possession heading into the fourth. Or for Parker missing both a free throw and a pull-up jumper in the final minute that could have given San Antonio a tie or a lead.

It's tempting to lay this at the feet of the officials — it always is — but any of a number of plays through the first 47 minutes, 50 seconds of game time could have given the Spurs the cushion they needed to hold fast late. But hey, don't take my word for it. Ask the Spurs.

"It's difficult, but we've just got to play through it," Leonard said. "Unfortunately, every call doesn't get called throughout the whole game, and we needed that one, but we've just got to keep rolling."

"We were frustrated, obviously," Green said. "We wanted the foul. But you've got to continue to play basketball, and Russ made a big play, got an and-one, put them up four."

"Sometimes you get a call, sometimes you don't," Popovich said. "It happens to everybody. Tough game."

And that means San Antonio's in for another tough game — one that, over the years, hasn't been particularly friendly to Coach Pop:

Whatever Wednesday's last two minutes report turns up, it won't change the predicament in which the Spurs now find themselves: facing elimination on the road, and needing to put together their best performance in two weeks to stay alive long enough to hope home-court advantage can be the difference-maker in Game 7 that it wasn't in Games 2 and 5. Those two final-minute plays might not have changed that, either. That won't make them sting any less to Spurs fans, though, especially if OKC finishes the job on Thursday.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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