Did Referees Blow Pivotal Call in OKC Thunder-LA Clippers Game 5?

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IMay 14, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 13: Kevin Durant #35 and Reggie Jackson #15 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate after Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 13, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Update: May 14, 9:30 p.m. ET

The NBA released a statement Wednesday evening deeming that the referees made the correct call in awarding the Oklahoma City Thunder possession after the rock appeared to last be touched by Reggie Jackson with 11.3 seconds remaining in regulation: 


Original Text

I don't know if you've heard, but there were a couple of controversial calls late in Tuesday night's stunning Game 5 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers—a game Kevin Durant and company wound up stealing (as you'll see), 105-104, to take a 3-2 series lead.

After steadily chipping away at L.A.'s fourth-quarter 101-88 lead with four minutes left, the Thunder cut it to 104-102 on a Kevin Durant fast-break lay-in. Seconds later, Chris Paul coughed up the ball. Reggie Jackson wound up with it and, upon attempting to drive the lane, was disrupted by Matt Barnes, who seemed to deflect the ball out of bounds.

The refs called it Thunder ball.

Then, with six seconds left, Russell Westbrook hoisted a three-pointer from the right wing.

The whistle blew. It was a foul on Paul.

Westbrook would hit all three free throws. Moments later, Paul turned the ball over again, this time on a last-ditch drive.

There were, to put it mildly, opinions on the matter.

It only makes sense to start with Clippers head coach Doc Rivers:

Afterward, the officiating crew made its own statement on the matter:

It's not crystal clear by any means, but here's an image of the play in question:

You knew Barnes would chime in:

Here's what the rule book had to say, which basically echoes lead official Tony Brothers' statement:

So, yeah, kind of a mess.

Examined from almost every angle, the foul called on Paul was dubious—doubly so when you consider the context: a deep jumper with seconds left in a pivotal playoff game.

The out-of-bounds call? While it's true that the video evidence wasn't enough to overturn Brothers' original call, said original call was pretty, pretty bad.

NBA referees aren't hired to be perfect; they're hired because they're, ostensibly, the best at what they do. But in a sport where the margin for error on everything—from the space needed to hoist a jumper to a pick-and-roll hedge—is so incredibly thin, it's only understandable that a few pairs of eyeballs might, every now and again, miss something crucial.

And crucial it was. The Clippers will have no recourse for what happened Tuesday night—save, of course, for two straight wins. Should that come to pass, it would be perhaps the greatest psychological turnaround in recent playoff memory.

If it doesn't? Don't expect the wounds to heal any time soon.