OKLAHOMA CITY – George Karl knew what he thought he saw. So the Denver Nuggets coach played the video, then rewound it and pressed play again. Same result.
With the Nuggets clinging to a one-point lead with 65 seconds left, Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins(notes) tipped in a missed shot by Russell Westbrook(notes) after hitting the net, then appearing to touch the ball and rim while the ball was still in the cylinder – a basket interference violation that should have negated the Thunder’s two points and given Denver the ball. Instead, Oklahoma City took the lead with the tip-in and held on to beat the Nuggets 107-103 in the opener of the teams’ first-round series.
Karl didn’t wait long to review the video evidence after the game. Nuggets officials then sent a text message to Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, complaining about the non-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.”
On Monday, the NBA admitted the officials made an error.
"Kendrick Perkins was improperly credited with a basket that should have been ruled offensive basket interference," the NBA said in a statement. "Although a player is permitted to touch the net while the ball is in the cylinder above the rim, Perkins also touched the ball while it was still in the cylinder which is a violation and constitutes goaltending."
A goaltending violation would have given the Nuggets the ball with a one-point lead and the final minute approaching. Karl believes the Nuggets were so upset by the non-call that their play was affected the rest of the game. Following a timeout, Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin(notes) walked to the scorer’s table and complained. Fifteen seconds later, he lofted an errant 21-foot jump shot.
“It was goaltending, man, all the way around,” Martin said. “Everybody in the building and everybody on TV saw it.”
Said Karl: “I was in shock. Because of it, I don’t think we executed very well in the last minute of the game. It kind of froze us.”
Perkins had yet to see the replay and wasn’t willing to speculate that the officials had missed the call. He does think the Nuggets already received a break of their own when Westbrook was called for basket interference midway through the second quarter.
“I saw it come off the rim and got a hand on it,” Perkins said. “They didn’t call it, so it must not have [happened]. Just go on and play. I didn’t question it.”
The controversial finish only added to the intrigue of a series that’s seemingly becoming more testy between the teams by the day. Before Sunday’s game, Karl said he thinks his Nuggets will beat the Thunder.
Still, Oklahoma City is now 4-1 against the Nuggets this season, including three straight wins since April 5. But Sunday night’s loss did give the Nuggets confidence they can not only compete against the Thunder but also win in boisterous Oklahoma City Arena. Oklahoma City needed 72 points from Kevin Durant(notes) (41) and Westbrook (31).
“There was 72 points by two great players, and they still got to get a fortunate call to win,” Karl said.
Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo(notes) hopes he can give his team a boost by returning from a left hamstring strain in Wednesday’s Game 2. He told Yahoo! Sports after Game 1 he will be evaluated by team doctor Steve Traina on Monday in hopes of getting cleared to play.
For now, the Thunder have grown only tired of Karl’s chattering. Before the series began, Karl declared the Thunder too cocky for their own good and said they acted dismissively toward the Nuggets in the locker room after beating them in Denver on April 5.
“I just want to make sure they know we know and I know,” Karl said. “I’m not going to talk directly on what was said. But they know we know.”
Perkins doesn’t agree. “We never said nothing,” he said. “I don’t know where he is getting that [expletive] from. I don’t know what he’s trying to do. We didn’t say anything.”
Perkins was on his way to the locker room before Sunday’s game when he crossed Karl’s path. Karl told Perkins he was worried about him. Perkins looked at Karl, but didn’t respond. In the end, Karl had reason to be worried – considering Perkins tipped in the go-ahead shot.
Karl said, “ ‘All I keep talking about is Kendrick Perkins,’ ” Perkins said. “Well, keep talking about me. But I ain’t the one you need to be talking about. I’m not the one who had 40 tonight.”