NBA fans like to complain about referees being biased towards one team or another, but identifying that prejudice often takes some work. Officials can call more fouls on one team or allow more contact from another, but figuring out a pattern of wrongdoing requires a lot of interpretation and intense film study. More often than not, it looks like the work of a conspiracy theorist.
Then there’s this jump ball from the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s game between the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. With 2:00 remaining in regulation and the hosts up 101-100, Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein and Cavs big man Tristan Thompson stood at center court for a jump ball. Thompson won it, because Cauley-Stein was never really given an opportunity to get it. Take a look:
Thankfully, referees redid the jump, which was won fairly by Thompson. Crisis averted.
That goofy moment gave way to a thrilling finish. LeBron James made two free throws on the next possession to stretch Cleveland’s lead to three points, but Sacramento persevered. A Cauley-Stein dunk with 38 seconds cut the margin to 103-102, after which Kyrie Irving split a pair of free throws. That gave the Kings a chance to tie or win, and likely All-Star DeMarcus Cousins did not disappoint:
Cousins followed his game-tying bucket by stealing the inbound pass and attempting a running three-pointer at the buzzer, but he missed very high to take things into overtime. The extra period continued in much the same manner as the end of regulation, with both teams staying close up until the very end. The Cavs appeared to have taken control with a 111-106 advantage halfway through OT, but the Kings stormed back and took a one-point lead on a Darren Collison lay-in with 35 seconds left. Cleveland had the opportunity to take back the lead when Kevin Love went to the line on the next possession, but he merely split his pair to force a tie.
That opened up another opportunity for Cousins and the Kings, who took advantage on this open three from Arron Afflalo:
Afflalo's 3 clinches it for @SacramentoKings!
— NBA (@NBA) January 26, 2017
The Cavs had a chance to force another overtime on the next possession, but LeBron settled for a very long and questionable three-pointer. Love grabbed the offensive rebound for another chance, but the Cavs were unable to convert and had to foul intentionally on their way to a 116-112 finish. The result is easily the best win for the Kings this season as they attempt to move on from Rudy Gay’s torn Achilles tendon and outpace a number of mediocre contenders for the West’s No. 8 spot. The team’s social media time got pretty excited after the game, too:
This one's for the Land… pic.twitter.com/GiJ2wSEoOZ
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) January 26, 2017
The L was a bad one for the Cavs, who have dropped three in a row and six of their last eight contests. LeBron’s final miss encapsulated much of the frustration of a day that saw Cleveland make only half of its 34 free throws and commit 18 turnovers. The Cavs aren’t only “top-heavy as s—” — they’re struggling to execute in fairly basic ways. New additions Kyle Korver’s missed assignment on Afflalo’s game-winning shot was just one of several glaring mistakes. Still, the front office says they have the right personnel to win another title.
The Cavs don’t have to freak out too much, because they’re still three games up on the Toronto Raptors for the top seed in the East and would have to fall very far not to look like the top title contender in the conference. Regardless, concerns are beginning to form for the defending champions.
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