A day later, Kendrick Perkins still wouldn't admit he did any wrong.
He didn't have to. The NBA did it for him.
In the Thunder's 107-103 win over Denver in Game 1 on Sunday, Perkins tipped in a missed jumper by Russell Westbrook to give the Thunder the lead for good. The basket put the Thunder up 102-101 with 1:05 left to play.
But it shouldn't have counted.
Perkins patted the ball back in as it was still on the rim, which, by rule, is goaltending.
“They didn't call it so it was a bucket,” said Perkins, when asked Monday if he goaltended the shot.
Roughly two hours after Perkins declined to declare his basket dirty, the league did, releasing a statement acknowledging the officiating crew's error.
“Kendrick Perkins was improperly credited with a basket that should have been ruled offensive basket interference with 1:05 remaining in (Sunday) night's game,” the statement read. “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.”
You could make the case that two days later, the play is water under the bridge. And if you're tired of hearing about it, welcome to life after the regular season. The NBA playoffs are the place where everything becomes magnified.
The no-call, rather than the captivating contest, was the topic of sports talk shows throughout the morning and afternoon on major television and radio networks, both locally and nationally. And the reality, no matter how much Thunder fans might not want to believe it, is that one sequence could have shaped this series.
“I'd say it affected it a lot,” said Denver point guard Ty Lawson. “It would have been our ball. We could have went up three. It could have been a whole different story.”
Emphasis should be placed on the Lawson's use of the word “could.” The Nuggets on Monday weren't claiming that receiving a call would have changed the outcome.
“We could say that if they would have called it we would have gone on to win,” said Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. “But who knows? The game didn't come down to that goaltending.”
The possibilities of how things might have played out differently, however, are worth pondering. That one play illustrated how quickly the face of an NBA game can change, even through one no-call. It's part of the reason why the league this season began experimenting with allowing players in the NBA Developmental League to grab the ball while it is still on the rim. The international game has long allowed the offensive goaltending, and the rule could soon be changed in the NBA.
On Sunday, that one missed call didn't decide the game.
But, like it or not, it did dictate Denver's disposition — mentally, emotionally and situationally.
It's not an excuse for the Nuggets. It's simply a fact.
And while the argument can be made that there were plenty of other calls that could have “gone the other way,” none were in the final 1 minute, 5 seconds of the game. Naturally, losing a possession at such a late juncture impacts any team's strategy and alters how players and coaches can attack.
“It transfers the pressure on them because we're up,” said Martin. “So now they got to come down and try to get a stop and a bucket.”
Rewind to the flow of the game, and you'll realize that might not have been an easy task for the Thunder. Oklahoma City at that point was out of sorts offensively. After taking a 98-90 lead, the Nuggets had scored nine straight to regain the advantage. By the time the controversial no-call came around, the Thunder was 1-for-8 with two turnovers on its past 10 possessions.
“They were having trouble scoring offensively,” said Denver coach George Karl. “And in a strange way, the goaltend came and got of got us in a funk. So we didn't score for two or three possessions in a row. I think that was a powerful play.”
Karl's substitution patterns and play calls, based on time and score, might have had a different look had he been playing with the lead. Perhaps the Nuggets' psyche, too. Instead, the Nuggets were shell-shocked, and Karl took the blame for a poor coaching decision.
“I made a mistake by not calling a timeout and letting our mental state settle down, Karl admitted. “I thought it had a mental play because our team was frustrated. I let them go, and we didn't get a good shot.”
Karl finally called timeout after the Nuggets burned 15 seconds in disbelief. Out of the huddle, the best shot Denver could get was a desperation 21-footer by Martin with the shot clock showing just two ticks remaining. Needless to say, he missed. Westbrook then pushed the Thunder's lead to three with a 15-footer at the other end with 22.4 seconds left to play.
Denver's final chance, for all intents and purposes, was a ragged set that the Thunder defended extremely well to discombobulate the Nuggets. Raymond Felton had to force a contested 3-point attempt that had no chance.
“You still got to get stops,” Martin said. “You still got to execute plays. I don't think we executed that well on the offensive end.”
The Nuggets looked themselves in the mirror Monday.
The NBA did, too.
“It's a long series,” Lawson said. “That one play is not going to affect our whole series. We'll bounce back from it and be all right.”