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.”