OAKLAND, Calif. — For the third time in six games, the NBA acknowledged that its referees blew a critical call during the closing minutes of a Thunder playoff victory.
Oklahoma City’s latest round of good fortune with the stripes came during its 108–102 victory over Golden State in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Monday, as Russell Westbrook escaped a traveling call in the game’s final minute.
With less than 25 seconds left and the Thunder leading 105–102, Westbrook pushed the ball up the court with Klay Thompson in pursuit. Instead of giving the foul right away to stop the clock, Thompson shadowed Westbrook in hopes of getting a steal. As Westbrook crossed halfcourt, he picked up his dribble and appeared to slide his right pivot foot before calling timeout with 17.2 seconds left.
The play took place directly in front of the Warriors bench, and coach Steve Kerr and assistant Luke Walton joined the courtside fans in immediately signaling for a travel call. None was given. Following the timeout, Westbrook hit three free throws on Oklahoma City’s next two possessions to seal the win.
“You have a tough play here,” NBA Senior Vice President of Replay and Referee Operations Joe Borgia said in a post-game interview with NBA TV. “It's an unfortunate miss, but so much going on in the play, the speed of it, and officiating is about getting angles and sometimes you just can't get them, and they did not get a great angle on that play.”
Borgia acknowledged that the game officials might have missed Westbrook’s travel because Thompson was giving pursuit and teams often foul immediately in that situation.
“The officials are thinking possibly that Thompson might want to take a foul, so they're focusing a lot on Thompson,” Borgia said. “Then all of a sudden Westbrook just pulls up. The officials, no one could get in a good position to see him drag that pivot foot.”
The Warriors opted not to make a big issue about the no-call after the game, although Kerr did state that he believed the referees had erred and that he hadn’t sought or received an explanation from the officials.
“I thought [Westbrook] walked but it wasn't called, so that's the way it goes,” Kerr said.
Westbrook, who finished with 27 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, smartly had no intention of weighing in on the controversy.
“I just played until I heard the whistle,” he said.
On Tuesday, the NBA will release a “Last 2 Minutes” report cataloguing the various late-game calls from a tight Game 1. The no-call on Westbrook will be included given the time/score situation when it occurred.
Twice during the Thunder’s second-round series with the Spurs, the “Last 2 Minutes” reports included officiating mistakes that aided close Thunder wins. After Game 2, the league admitted that its officials failed to whistle Dion Waiters for a foul as he shoved Manu Ginobili during an inbounds play. Following Game 5, the NBA admitted that its crew incorrectly assessed multiple foul calls that wound up favoring the Thunder.
Oklahoma City will take its 1-0 series lead into Game 2, which is set for Oracle on Wednesday.