LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers put on a good show.
But the NBA, a day after the Los Angeles Clippers coach ranted and raved about what he perceived to be a blown call near the conclusion of his team’s Game 5 loss to the Thunder, ruled he was wrong.
The controversial possession ruling made by the officials with 11.3 seconds remaining Tuesday, and upheld following replay review, was deemed the correct call by the league office Wednesday.
NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn clarified the call in a written statement sent out Wednesday evening.
“With 11.3 seconds left in the game, the basketball went out of bounds on the baseline and the referees ruled the ball belonged to the Thunder,” Thorn said. “The referees then used instant replay to review the play. In order to reverse the call made on the court, there has to be ‘clear and conclusive’ evidence. Since no replay provided such evidence, the play correctly stood as called with the Thunder retaining possession.”
Rivers ripped the officiating crew in his postgame press conference for ruling that the ball went off of the Clippers instead of Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. It set up a 3-point attempt by Russell Westbrook, who was fouled by Chris Paul on the shot and awarded three free throws. Westbrook made all three to give the Thunder a 105-104 win.
It was a bizarre ending to a crazy comeback in which the Thunder rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes to take a 3-2 series lead heading into Thursday night’s Game 6.
In issuing its statement, the NBA also removed the perception of a tainted win by the Thunder.
“We ain’t going to talk about just the last play,” said Kevin Durant. “How about the six plays we made before those fouls that we made to put us in position? So a lot of people aren’t going to talk about that. They’re going to just talk about what happened at the end. I think we fought so hard, we went through so much adversity to come out on top, it’s kind of a shame people are going to try and take that from us because of the last few calls. But sometimes that’s how the game goes.”
The possession ruling was one of three critical and controversial calls in the final 15 seconds. Paul claimed he didn’t foul Westbrook on his 3-point attempt, although photographic evidence shows Paul making contact with Westbrook’s right elbow. And on the Clippers’ final possession, Jackson appeared to pull Paul’s right arm as he attempted a pass to Griffin underneath the basket. It resulted in a turnover. No call was made, and time ran out.
“We made our own mistakes,” Rivers conceded. “We turned the ball over. We fouled the 3-point shooter. We did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks stuck to his same tune Wednesday when asked about the controversial finish.
“I thought the replays were inconclusive and they made the right call,” Brooks said. “I thought it was the right call. There’s so many basketball calls in every game, you can break down every play. Good screen, bad screen. Push, not push. Carry the ball, not carry the ball. It’s just part of the game. You play through. You play the game every play and you move to then next play.
“I thought our guys did a great job of putting ourselves in position to win that game. Obviously the odds were stacked against us, but we never put our heads down, and we made big plays. I like the fact that we did that after the game before. We had a lot of opportunities to win that game and did not do that. Give them credit. They made all the big plays in Game 4 and we didn’t play well down the stretch. Next game was the other way.”