SAN ANTONIO — The final 13.5 seconds of Game 2 of these Western Conference semifinals were so frenzied that the lead referee acknowledged afterwards that the controversial inbounds pass resulted in a play the officials had never seen before.
That crew chief, Ken Mauer, also said they got it wrong.
Television replays showed that Oklahoma City’s Dion Waiters used his elbow to create contact with San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili before throwing an inbounds pass toward Kevin Durant. The pass was stolen by Danny Green, and three passes later the ball found its way to Patty Mills, who threw up an errant shot on a potential game-winning baseline three-point attempt.
After a scrum for the ball, the buzzer sounded and the Thunder evened the series with the Spurs at one game apiece with a 98-97 victory, secured by that final sequence that left most of the AT&T Center fans slack-jawed.
After the game, Mauer issued a statement through a pool reporter that said, "On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree that we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we have never seen before, ever, but we feel we should have had an offensive foul on Waiters."
Mauer said the ball should have been awarded to the Spurs. Instead, the series is now even after a zany finish to a game that couldn’t have been more different than the Spurs’ 32-point easy victory in Game 1.
Afterwards, Ginobili insisted that the inbounds play non-call did not decide the game. But the play came under intense scrutiny immediately after the final buzzer sounded.
"I've never seen a play like that," Ginobili said. "I don’t know what should have been called or if it should have been called anything. I mean, it doesn’t matter. It’s over. They aren’t going to be able to change it."
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The final sequence was so wild that some San Antonio players couldn’t pinpoint which part of the final 13.5 seconds was the cause of the most controversy. And Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he had no knowledge that Waiters may have made contact with Ginobili.Spurs coach Gregg Popovich complained to the officials after the play. It appeared that Waiters may have also come close to committing a five-second violation. And when asked about the inbounds play later, Popovich told reporters, "Something certainly happened on the sideline, I thought."
"I'm not sure what you are talking about," Donovan said when asked about the play. "I didn't hear anything about that at all. I haven't seen the clip."
Mills said he had a "good look" at the three-pointer, even with Steven Adams running at him, and that tired legs did not contribute to the shot being short.
"I had no idea what was on the clock," Mills said, "because a lot of stuff happened in a short seven seconds or whatever we had."
LaMarcus Aldridge briefly secured the shot Mills missed before he lost it. In the rush for the ball, the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka is seen in a photograph of the play grabbing Aldridge’s jersey.
"He had a good chunk of my jersey," Aldridge said.
The Spurs were fortunate to even be in the game at the end considering their disastrous start. They made just one of their first 13 shots from the field, missing several layup attempts. After scoring just 14 points in Game 1, Russell Westbrook erupted offensively to score a team-high 29.
In fact, Popovich said he felt like his team lost the game on three separate occasions.
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But the Spurs had a chance to win in the end largely because of Aldridge, who followed his 38-point effort in Game 1 with a 41-point performance Monday. In the game’s final minute, he made a rare three-pointer and also sank three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt.
That set the stage for the game’s defining play, and the offensive foul that wasn’t called.
"Yeah, he kind of elbowed him, went over the line," the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard said. "But we ended up getting a turnover and a steal out of that so you can’t really fault it."
As Ginobili said, "It was a very awkward play. It doesn’t happen very often. ... We had the ball. We had a few other opportunities."
Follow Eric Prisbell on Twitter @EricPrisbell.