Thunder: OKC survives frantic finish in Game 2, evens series with San Antonio
SAN ANTONIO — With a bloodthirsty crowd behind him and jittery Manu Ginóbili crowding his space, Dion Waiters, in the most important moment of his career — inbounding, up one, with 13.5 seconds left of a pivotal playoff game in San Antonio — shivered Ginobili backward with an elbow and then tossed a floating pass toward halfcourt.
What transpired was one of the strangest, wildest, frantic, controversial NBA finishes in recent memory. The end result: a 98-97 Thunder escape and a series that heads back to Oklahoma City tied at one. Somehow.
“Something certainly happened on that sideline,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said postgame.
All season, the Thunder, rather famously, had issues closing games. But down the stretch on Tuesday, OKC made a ton of big plays.
With 2:29 left, up two, a fluid Thunder offensive set led to a wide-open Dion Waiters corner 3, set up by Serge Ibaka and knocked down by Waiters. It put OKC up five.
A LaMarcus Aldridge jumper with 1:27 left was answered by an 11-foot Kevin Durant fadeaway. An Aldridge 3-pointer was answered by two clutch Russell Westbrook free throws. The Spurs kept coming but the Thunder kept counterpunching, holding firm to a four-point lead with 18 seconds left.
Then, nearly, they almost melted down again with a sequence of mistakes.
Ibaka fell for an Aldridge pumpfake with 13 seconds left, crashing into him and giving Aldridge three free throws. He hit them all, bringing San Antonio within one and forcing OKC coach Billy Donovan to call his last timeout. He drew up an inbounds play and entrusted Waiters to take it out.
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As he did, no one on the Thunder sprung open, unable to shake a physical Spurs defense. Ginobili crowded Waiters, appearing to step over the line. Waiters panicked and leaned over, quite clearly shoving Ginobili back. But no whistle came — not for a Ginobili violation or the Waiters shove.
So Waiters flung a rainbow toward halfcourt, similar to that nightmare Durant turnover against the Warriors back in February.
Durant was the intended receiver, but as he rose up to catch it, he lost his balance, fumbling it away as he fell to the floor.
The loose ball squirted into the hands of the Spurs, who had a 3-on-1 fast break setup in the open floor. But the gigantic Steven Adams was the Thunder's one and, on this night, that was a fortunate thing.
Adams, 22 but with the rugged mindset of a 31-year-old construction worker, was monstrous in the paint all night. He finished with 12 points, 17 huge rebounds, a pair of ferocious dunks and the biggest defensive play of the night.
As Danny Green pushed the turnover upcourt, Adams stepped at him, forcing a pass over the top to Patty Mills. But Adams recovered, stoning a layup attempt and forcing a pass to Ginobili, who drove right at Adams.
Adams shuffled back, stopped the drive and forced an over-the-shoulder pass to Mills in the corner. No one was near Mills. So Adams, incredibly mobile for a 7-footer, took one giant step and a leap, nearly getting a fingertip on Mills jumper and forcing an air ball into a mosh pit.
Aldridge, Ibaka, Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard all scrambled for the loose ball. But it was too late. Time had expired. Adams' defense had saved the Thunder. A batch of strange no-calls didn't hurt, either.
Thirty minutes after the most frantic moment of his career, Waiters sat in stoned silence, ice packs on his knees, scrolling through his phone at his locker.
Countless Vines and screenshots and opinions of the wild closing sequence had hit the web. Waiters was at the center of it. He scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and then saw something that piqued his interest.
“He stepped on the line anyway,” Waiters said to Durant. "Whatever. We got the win."