Game 2's Controversial Ending Impacted the Spurs and Thunder Series Dramatically
One single play can have a massive impact on the outcome of a game and of a playoff series. That play could be a made shot, a missed shot, a mental mistake, a foul call, etc.
NBA history is written in split-second decisions and 50/50 happenstance.
Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder was essentially decided on a non-call, and the impact that it will have on this series has the potential to be huge.
This was the definition of a back-and-forth affair. Just look at our win probability graph for proof of that:
The Thunder opened the game on a commanding 19-6 run, forcing Spurs' head coach Gregg Popovich to call timeout and bench his entire starting lineup.
By the 4:40 mark in the first quarter and with the score still 19-6, the Thunder had brought their win probability from a mere 22.99% at opening tip all the way up to 62.37%.
The Spurs then came roaring back and had regained the lead and the odds of winning the game by the halfway point of the second quarter. With 5:18 to go in the second frame and the score 41-37 in favor of the Spurs, they had brought their win probability all the way back to 80.88% and looked to be firmly back in the driver's seat.
The two teams would go on to trade the advantage back and forth a few more times throughout the game (it was a fun one), but OKC stood with a commanding 94.48% chance of winning with only 18 seconds left after two free throws from Russell Westbrook pushed the score to 98-94 in favor of OKC.
Serge Ibaka would then bite hard on a LaMarcus Aldridge pump fake, fouling him on a subsequent three-point heave and sending him to the line for three free throws. Aldridge drained all three, putting the score at 98-97 Thunder, and bringing their win probability back to a puncher's chance of 23.43%.
The Thunder had possession and the lead with only 13 seconds to go, so it looked like they were going to have to make their free throws after an inevitable San Antonio foul and keep the Spurs off the three-point line to come away with the win.
But that didn't happen.
The ensuing inbounds play by the Thunder will live on in infamy for a long time.
There was no offensive foul called on the play, so instead of gaining possession out of bounds with a chance to set up, the Spurs scrambled in transition and failed to get a bucket.
The NBA world lost its collective mind over the egregious no-call.
Magic Johnson, as hyperbolic as ever, summed up the sentiments of many:
Waiters foul on Ginobili was the worst missed call in playoff history.
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) May 3, 2016
The referees missing that call was a big deal. They've admitted as much. But that offensive foul wasn't the only thing the referees missed:
Dion Waiters sitting at his locker, scrolling through his phone postgame: "He stepped on the line anyway"
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 3, 2016
Oh. Well...yeah, I guess he did:
Obviously Waiters can't shove Ginobili, but Ginobili can't go over the line either. pic.twitter.com/9SY1UO8FLH
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) May 3, 2016
So, the referees missed both a violation on Ginobili and an offensive foul on Waiters. Do those two things cancel each other out?
Who knows? What we do know is that the Thunder won a game in San Antonio (only the second time that any team has done that all year) and now hold homecourt advantage. The Spurs opened this series as 68.48% favorites, according to our algorithms, and that moved up to 78.24% after the 124-92 beatdown that they administered in Game 1.
After last night's win by OKC, though, the Spurs are now only 59.85% favorites to win the series
If the Spurs had pulled off the win last night? That number would be a convincing 87.59% in favor of San Antonio.
However you want to call that final play, there's no denying that it has shifted the narrative of this series considerably. We'll see how the Spurs respond in Game 3 in Oklahoma City on Friday.