Sunday's four playoffs games were all excellent, with the Grizzlies' and Hornets' upsets over higher seeds standing as the biggest stories of the day. For sheer entertainment value, though, the best game of the day was the nightcap between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets. Kevin Durant(notes) (41 points and nine rebounds), Russell Westbrook(notes) (31 points, seven assists and six boards), and Nene (22 points on 9-of-11 FGs) were all at or near their best, and there were enough highlights to fill half an episode of "SportsCenter." Yet, for all its greatness, the ending was not without controversy.
With 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Westbrook pulled up for a mid-range jumper over Nuggets point guard Raymond Felton(notes). The shot looked to be rattling off the rim when Thunder center Kendrick Perkins came up to knock the ball back through the hoop. Except, by all indications, he also hit the ball while it was still in the cylinder, along with the net and maybe even the rim. All three of those infractions usually get a player called for offensive interference. To make things even weirder, the official play-by-play of the game credits Westbrook with a basket, not Perkins.
As Matt Moore points out at Eye on Basketball, the exact rules regarding offensive interference are a little hazy, although they still seem to suggest that Perkins committed the infraction here. This field goal turned out to be a huge one -- it put the Thunder up three, requiring a poorly handled 3-point attempt by Felton on the ensuing possession to tie when an interference call would have allowed the Nuggets to try a 2-pointer to win. Felton's shot missed badly, at which point the OKC win became a mere matter of free throws. If Perkins' play had been disallowed, we might see the Nuggets with a 1-0 lead and homecourt advantage in what should be an extremely competitive series.
After the game, as Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears reported, the Nuggets were not happy about the call:
"Three-fourths of the ball is still in the cylinder when Perkins touches it," Karl said. "Three-fourths of the ball, not half of the ball.
"What can I say? It’s tough. When you fight hard, it’s hard because guys give you everything you possibly can give there."
At the same time, it's hard to say that the Nuggets were completely victims of a bad call. Their offensive execution in the final minutes was very lacking, with Felton often mishandling possessions and forcing himself and his teammates into bad shots late in the shot clock. Bad officiating matters, especially in the final seconds of a game, and the Nuggets should be upset. But complaints are rarely a path to improvement, and Denver's late-game execution will ultimately matter more than whether or not they get lucky with the referees. In a series this evenly matched, the changes the Nuggets can control will make the difference.