The Clippers' improbable last-minute collapse in a 105-104 Game 5 loss to the Thunder left coach Doc Rivers raving mad at the officials, while Chris Paul appeared inconsolable following a series of costly blunders.
Oklahoma City escaped at home thanks to an 8-0 run in the game's final 45 seconds, a push fueled by multiple questionable calls, two Paul turnovers and a foul call on Paul as he defended a Russell Westbrook three-point attempt. The victory gives the Thunder a 3-2 series lead and prevents the Clippers from a chance to close out the series at the Staples Center on Thursday.
Rivers will surely be fined by the league office after he launched into an extended diatribe against the referees' decision to grant Oklahoma City possession after an out-of-bounds call with 11.3 seconds to play and the Clippers leading 104-102. Thunder guard Reggie Jackson was driving to the basket when Clippers forward Matt Barnes swiped at the ball.
Replays appeared to indicate that Barnes fouled Jackson and that Jackson was the last player to touch the ball. The referees, who were unable to review whether there was a foul due to league rules, took a look at the play and determined that Barnes had touched the ball last. In Rivers' opinion, the officials came to that decision as a make-up call because they could not retroactively assess a foul on Barnes.
"Everybody knows it was our ball," Rivers said. "The bottom line is that they thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let's take away replay. Let's take away the replay system. That was our ball, we win the game. We got robbed because of that call. It's clear, everybody in the arena saw it. That's why everybody was shocked when they said Oklahoma City. That was our ball. Whether it was a foul or not -- it was -- but they didn't call it."
Speaking for more than nine minutes -- significantly longer than the average post-game press conference -- Rivers returned time and time again to the disputed call.
"We did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves," he admitted. "But at the end of the day, we have a replay system that you're supposed to look at. I don't want to hear that they didn't have that replay. That's a bunch of crap. ... That's a bunch of crap, and y'all know it. ... We made a comedy of errors. Having said that, we still have the right to win the game if the [call] says it's our ball. That's too bad. ... That could be a series-defining call. And that's not right."
Rivers told reporters that he was so sure the ball would go to the Clippers that he was already drawing up an inbounds play before they made the official ruling. He then suggested that even the TNT broadcasting crew believed the officials -- Tony Brothers, Bennett Salvatore and Tom Washington -- had made the wrong decision.
"Steve Kerr and them were over there shaking their head, everybody saw it," Rivers said. "My thinking was, 'I was pissed.' I don't think that's working the officials. That's being honest with the officials. I love them, I think all three of those officials are terrific officials. On that call, they got it wrong. That's a game-defining and possibly a series-defining call. And that ain't right.
"Everybody in the arena, everybody on TV saw it. It was so clear that I went and grabbed a clipboard to draw up a side out of bounds [play] to get the ball in. ... What can you do? ... Our officials don't do anything on purpose, they don't cheat or anything like that. They made a horrendous call. ... Get it right. That's the only answer. Sometimes its hard, where it can go either way. Then, what can you do? When it's that clear, the answer is [to] get it right. ... That one wasn't hard, but what can you do?"
On multiple occasions during the playoffs, the NBA league office has issued a memo acknowledging a game-deciding incorrect call after the fact. During the Clippers' first-round series with the Warriors, the NBA admitted that its officials missed a foul call against Golden State.
"I don't need it," Rivers said, when asked if he expected to see a league office statement. "I'll release the memo. They. Blew. The. Call. That's the memo."
Brothers released a statement explaining the officials' viewpoint after the game.
"When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City," Brothers' statement read. "We go review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it's inconclusive we have to go with the call that was on the floor."
Missing from Brothers' statement was a potential rule that could have better justified the decision.
Rule 8, Section 2C of the NBA's rulebook provides an explanation for why Oklahoma City could have retained possession.
"The ball is caused to go out-of-bounds by the last player to touch it before it goes out, provided it is out-of-bounds because of touching something other than a player," the rule reads. "If the ball is out-of-bounds because of touching a player who is on or outside a boundary, such player caused it to go out. If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession."
In this case, the referees could have ruled that Jackson had his hand in contact with the ball, Barnes hit Jackson's hand causing it to go out of bounds, and Oklahoma City would therefore retain possession.
Again, this rule was not cited by the officials after the game and this interpretation was not given by the officials to Rivers during the game.
Multiple Clippers players turned to social media to protest the call following the game. Barnes posted a picture of the sequence to his Instagram alongside the caption: "There's no question this went off my hand last right? #--- outahere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"Follow
In response to a Twitter post by former NBA executive Stu Jackson that cited the rulebook passage above and concluded that the officials had made the correct call, Clippers forward Jared Dudley wrote: "Are you serious?!!! [Shake my head] Blind."
Following the disputed call, Westbrook was fouled by Paul on a three-point attempt and he made all three free throws to provide the winning margin. There didn't appear to be much contact on that play. Westbrook said he was fouled; Paul said he didn't think he had committed a foul, but that it ultimately didn't matter.
Meanwhile, Paul was especially hard on himself for his late-game miscues. Just before the disputed out-of-bounds call, Paul lost possession of the ball in the backcourt while anticipating that he would be fouled by Westbrook. Then, seconds later, he committed the foul on Westbrook to give up the three free throws. Finally, he committed a turnover on the Clippers' final offensive possession, failing to get a shot up even though L.A. was trailing by just one point. On that play, Jackson appeared to make contact with Paul's right arm, leading to the turnover, but no foul was called.
"Probably the toughest thing I’ve been through basketball-wise," Paul said of the loss. "It’s me. Everything that happened there at the end was on me. ... We lost, it’s on me. … This one is bad, though. It’s bad. To work that hard, to have a game, to give it away. I kind of pride myself on taking care of the ball, managing games towards the end. None of the guys on the team could have done anything about it, it was just me."
He then ran down his mistakes one by one.
"Assuming they were going to foul was the dumbest play I’ve probably ever made," Paul said. "Last play, I didn’t get a shot up. That’s just dumb. I’m supposed to be the leader of the team, can’t happen. ... You can’t foul a three-point shooter, that’s the dumbest thing ever. Even if I didn’t foul him. Just bad."Top video via YouTube user outsidethenba | Bottom video via YouTube user NextViralSource