Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals was there for the taking for the Oklahoma City Thunder. No massive, first-half hole to climb out of. No jump shots falling for the Miami Heat. No problem going from defense to offense in 2.2 seconds flat.
And then, a fourth foul on Kevin Durant here, a pair of fouled three-point shooters there, and a 2-1 series advantage started to look more and more like a 1-2 deficit for young OKC.
Which, for those of you who enjoy dispensing blame, brings to mind the obvious question: Who's to blame?
Frankly, the postgame finger-pointing barrage could probably use someone directing runway traffic.
The conspiracy theorists and zebra antagonists wouldn't exactly be out of line to take aim at the officiating, particularly with regard to Durant. The crew of Joey Crawford, Ken Mauer and James Capers whistled the Durantula on ticky-tack calls on more than one occasion, not the least of which was one on Dwyane Wade that sent Durant to the bench at the 5:41 mark of the third quarter.
The SMH crew will see Serge Ibaka fouling Shane Battier on a three-pointer and Derek Fisher doing the same to James Jones in the exact same spot shortly after Durant went to the bench...and "S" their "H's."
The anti-neutrality crowd will target Thabo Sefolosha, the Swiss mister who made his fair share of big plays on defense (particularly while guarding LeBron James) but proved to be one of the biggest detractors from OKC's cause. He registered a minus-11 rating on the evening, and the Thunder came in at minus-10 when he was on the floor in the first quarter alone (per PopcornMachine.net).
The pro-James Harden contingent can cry foul about how Harden should've started, especially with the way Thabo struggled. They might also conveniently highlight The Bearded One's six assists and six rebounds.
Because the anti-Harden caucus would probably suggest that the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year play less after seeing him shoot 2-of-10 and contribute a pair of boneheaded plays in the fourth quarter.
The "What The $&%@ is Derek Fisher Doing?!?!?!" folks will wonder "What the $&%@ was Derek Fisher doing running the offense early in the fourth quarter?"—most notably when he had a shot rejected by noted "Sultan of Swat" Udonis Haslem.
The Dave Hoplas and Tom Amberrys of the world will see that the Thunder shot just 15-of-24 from the free-throw line. This, after OKC led the NBA in free-throw shooting during the regular season by converting 80.6 percent of their attempts and upping that number to 82.3 percent in the playoffs.
The Russell Westbrook haters will see that he took fewer shots than Durant...and then blame Westy for giving Scott Brooks cause to bench him for the last 5:01 of the third in favor of Fisher. They might also join forces with the anti-Harden caucus to protest OKC's penchant for one-on-one play and settling for jump shots in the fourth quarter, while LeBron and Wade continued to attack the basket on the other end.
And then there are the Scotty second-guessers, who might just have the most legitimate beef of all. They can chastise the coach all they want for his players reverting to individual effort over team execution (as the Thunder have been known to do), but Scotty doesn't play anymore.
They can wonder whether Scotty should've started Harden, but he might've just as easily caught flak for switching up his formula, especially if it involved rewarding a guy who wore sweats to a nightclub in Miami while partying with one of LeBron's old squeezes.
They can cry foul for Scotty's decision to keep Durant and Westbrook on the bench while playing lineups of Harden, Fisher, Thabo, Nick Collison/Kendrick Perkins and Daequan Cook/Serge Ibaka in the third quarter—ones that would be better suited for garbage time—and, well, they'd have a point.
After all, it was during that time that the Thunder watched the Heat turn a 10-point deficit into a two-point lead by way of a 15-3 run.
Brooks said at the postgame press conference that he was worried about Durant picking up a fifth foul too quickly and Westbrook potentially imploding on the court. Those are both reasonable concerns, especially with so much time left to play.
But Durant had managed to tip-toe his way through the vast majority of the fourth in Game 2 with five fouls and still managed to nearly lead OKC to victory. Surely, that should've earned him some leeway with Scotty to stay on the floor in the third quarter of Game 3, shouldn't it?
As for Westy, Scotty knows better than anyone that you take the good with the bad when it comes to the volatile All-Star. Surely, the thought of having to put Daequan Cook in the game for any reason whatsoever would've been enough to chase any inklings of benching Russ from Scotty's thought process.
Of course, this is all to take away from another brilliant effort from LeBron (29 points, 14 rebounds, three assists) and another fantastic finals performance by D-Wade (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists).
Because the Thunder had the Heat right where they wanted them. OKC was playing like Miami used to, defending like gangbusters and putting the pedal to the metal in the third quarter...before fumbling its way into the blame game in crunch time.
And the Thunder didn't even play that particularly well.
So much pointing of fingers. So little time.