LeBron’s sixth foul wasn’t called, which was a good thing

OKLAHOMA CITY — “No question that’s a foul.”

Those were ABC broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy’s final words on Thursday night’s broadcast, and the foul/non-foul will be shown over and over and over again until this series resumes Sunday night in Miami.

The play in question was a seven-foot baseline jumper that Durant attempted after his arms got locked with James’ arms, a good half-second before Durant faded away and got off a clean release that bounced harmlessly off the rim. It was a shot you expect Durant to make – especially in a game in which he once again took over in the second half and brought the Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink of victory after they fell behind by 17 points early and spend the rest of the night whittling away at the deficit.

Yes, James’ arms got a little locked up with Durant’s. But was it incidental contact, or was it a foul?

I am going with the former, not the latter, and with all due respect to Van Gundy, there is a question of whether that contact constituted a foul. In my book, it wasn’t.

This is a man’s game, the two guys who are “The Man’ for their teams were matched up for the game’s key possession, and if a foul had been called on James for that kind of contact, it would have been an injustice to the Miami Heat in a game they ended up winning, 100-96.

This was not a poorly officiated game, with the exception of a horrible goaltending call against Serge Ibaka in the second quarter after Durant had already blocked a shot and Ibaka then batted the miss off the backboard. There was a 50-50 block-charge call that could have led to Durant’s sixth foul with 3:20 left, but instead the call went against Shane Battier (who was huge once again for the Heat, and may end up being the piece that was missing last year that gets them over the hump this year).

From @BPaulHamilton

On the play in question with 7 seconds left, only the baseline camera angle showed the contact made by James. After he missed the shot, Durant looked at the refs as though he was expecting a whistle.

The Thunder immediately fouled James on the rebound, and then we got to see the moment we all have waited nearly 365 days to see. The Heat were up, 98-96, James was on the line with a chance to all but ice the game with 7.1 seconds left, and he knocked down both of them for a four-point lead.

The haters had to have hated it, but it was a manly moment for a manly man in a hostile arena amid a deafening din.

Was James the best player in the fourth quarter? No, you can’t say that. It was Durant, who stayed on the floor for the remainder of the game after picking up his fifth foul with 10:31 remaining and went on to score 16 points over the remainder of the period.

James? He made only one bucket over the entire fourth quarter, but it was a monster one – and a tough one – as he took a huge step to his left and went glass as the 24-second clock was winding down, banking in a 15-footer that made it 96-91 after the Thunder had pulled within three.

James finished 1-for-4 in the fourth quarter with three defensive rebounds, two assists and one turnover, while Durant was 5-for-9, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, with a pair of steals, a block and a rebound.

So after two games, we can debate who is having the better series, and the answer has to be KD.

But the series is 1-1, which is all that matters, and there’s an awful lot of basketball ahead of us before we decide whether The King still deserves to wear his crown, or if Durant has surpassed him in the greatness pecking order at the tender age of 23.

But thank goodness it didn’t come down to a whistle on what appeared to be incidental contact.

Technically, was it a foul? Probably so.

You want to watch games in which ticky-tack fouls like that decide championships? I don’t.

I don’t think Durant does either.

Asked afterward if he thought he was fouled on the play, Durant said he’d have to go look at the tape. It was a diplomatic dodge.

When Jon Saraceno of USA Today followed up by asking “Are you saying you didn’t get mugged on that shot?” Durant’s reply was terse and even-tempered.

“I missed the shot, man.”

I sent out a tweet right after the final buzzer asking if folks thought a foul should have been called. Here’s a few of the responses:

@ could have gone either way; I say good no call, Durant still should have made that shot.
Giovanni Castiglione
@ The better question is, "How many times did he foul him?"
Darin Brooks
@ he folded him twice right in front of the ref. LBJ hit him on both arms and was hand checking... Terrible
Jason Gibson
@ 2 stars.. Refs swallow the whistle..make Durant make the shot..hey OkC show up to play in the first quarter .and i hate Miami

That’s just a small sampling. Many folks tweeted back that Durant should have been called for the charge against Battier and shouldn’t even have been in the game.

As for Van Gundy, and his statement that “no question that was a foul” …

Well, Jeff is a Heat hater, and he has been for a long time. He was such a Pat Riley disciple when he was an up-and-coming assistant that he gave one of his daughters the middle name “Riley.” But the two men had a falling out in the late ’90s when the Heat and the Knicks were having their epic playoff battles, and the chances of the Van Gundys and the Rileys sitting down to break bread and smoke the peace pipe together grew even more remote when Riley fired Jeff’s brother, Stan, six years ago in Miami when the discord between Stan and Shaquille O’Neal was too much for the franchise to withstand.

So take it with a grain of salt when Jeff makes an anti-Heat argument. He wants the Thunder to win, and he wanted that foul called.

From watching and listening to Durant afterward, I’m not so sure he wanted that foul called.

He wanted to hit the shot. He didn’t want a game-saving play to be gift-wrapped. Kudos to him, and kudos to the Heat for playing to the elite level they will need to sustain in order to win this series.

Sunday night can’t arrive soon enough.

Chris Sheridan is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every NBA Finals since 1994, with the exception of 2011(DNP-Litigiousness), and every Olympics since 1996. Follow him on Twitter.



  1. ts says

    Are you F***ing kidding me. Was it technically a foul, well yes. You are an idiot. This was such a huge no call. I am a Lakers fan and could care less who wins but when you see something like this it makes you want to vomit. A foul is a foul. KD spun and burned James, had he not grabbed and bodied him Durant gets to the bucket for a jam, at least give him the foul. I love basketball and it just frustrates the hell out of me to see this sort of crap.

  2. Buzz Lightyear says

    There are two aspects to this play:

    1) Was there contact? Unequivocally yes

    2) Was it a foul? Well…it depends.

    Compare the LBJ-KD contact to the wrestling that goes on in the low post on nearly every NBA possession.

    Compare the LBJ-KD contact to the Battier-Westbrook collision earlier in the game when no call was made.

    Compare the LBJ-KD contact to contact on dribble penetration on countless NBA plays over the past couple of decades.

    Were fouls called in all of those other instances? No, they were not.

    For those who claim the LBJ-KD contact was a foul and should always be called, I challenge you to watch the game more carefully. If the game really was called the way you claim it should be, NBA contests would be reduced to free-throw shooting wars of attrition, or players would simply cease to play defense.

    If that’s what you want, then fine. You go with your preferences.

    But don’t claim that the KD-LBJ play was absolutely positively without-a-doubt world-without-end a foul when it’s clear that NBA officials routinely allow similar contact in countless other plays.

    Maybe it was a foul, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the ref didn’t have the right angle to see the contact. Maybe the ref thought there was less contact than actually occurred. Maybe, as many have speculated, the ref “swallowed his whistle” because it was the closing seconds. Or maybe the ref saw the contact and determined the contact did not constitute a foul.

    I have plenty of beefs with NBA officiating, but I also have sympathy for their efforts to call a game consistently when there is both contact and flopping on nearly every single play.

  3. drew says

    But what about the third no call where Lebron turned around and grabbed Russel Westbrooks right arm in mid air, as he was going for that put back slam off the Durant miss? If you watch the replay, Westbrook clearly would have got that ball clean and probably would have dunked it for a tie ballgame. It’s one thing to not call one so so foul but to miss three on one play is pretty bad. But if this is how they are going to call it then next time Durant should give LBJ the old MJ to Byron Russell shove.

  4. Trod says

    The part of the play you are watching is afoul, that might get waved off late ih the game.
    But continue to watch the tape
    Jamesvdrags his elbow down on durant’s knee so Durant can’t elevate.
    That’ s a worse foul.
    And if you want to see an even worse foul on the play watch what James does to Westbrook.
    He doesn’t box out, he doesn’t go for the ball. Westbrook can’t secure the ball because James grabs his hand. Not his arm like is common but his hand.
    There is no question that is a blatant foul at any point in the game.
    Look at it
    It’s deliberate and dirty and right in front of crawford

  5. Jeff says

    This is dumb. He fouled him. It doesn’t matter if you are a “hater” or a Lebron fan. It doesn’t matter if it is incidental. When DWade jumps into you while you are in the air, that would be less incidental. Bottom line is that Lebron got away with the most important foul of his life. How would anyone be expected to make that shot when your shooting hand is being dragged down AND then your elevation is stopped by Lebrons arm on your thigh??

  6. says

    Here’s my take on it. Let’s say for the sake of argument it’s the same amount of contact on the other end of the court and LeBron gets the whistle and all.

    My guess is that 90 percent of the Thunder fans are going to be complaining about incidental contact, about how it’s the Finals, and about how in the Finals we should have the games determined by play, not by foul calls.

    I’ve just seen this story played out too many times to know otherwise. If the refs call it, it’s “tick-tac” and a shame. If they don’t call it, it’s a “blown call” and the refs determined the outcome of the game.

    And incredibly, the fans of the team that benefit invariably are on the sides of the ref and the fans of the team that suffer are adamant that the game was decided by the refs and “fixed.’

    The question here was not whether there was contact—there was. The question here is whether there was sufficient contact to have a pivotal game in the Finals be determined by a whistle.

    There was not.

    The key to this sort of argument is simple. How was the rest of the game called? Have the officials been consistent in what they call a foul? And the answer here is that they were consistent.

    They were “letting them play” so to speak as they have been the entire postseason. Fouls per game are lower than they were last year and actually lower than they have been in over a decade.

    Yes, a foul is a foul, but what’s not a foul is not a foul. That degree of contact was being permitted all night and the officials did the right thing by not suddenly changing the way they were calling the game in the last seven seconds. Give the officials credit for not bowing to the pressure of the moment.

  7. Lee says

    Chris, you do realize that Lebron finished the game with 4 fouls??

    So the title of this discussion is all wrong.

  8. says

    That”s sports for you, but my question to America is this, was that a foul in Lebron, absolutely, but was that not a foul on Kevin Durant when he charged into Shane Battier. So if that call is made, then he is not there for that shot, and the three he made would not have been made as well.

  9. DTish says

    Good no call. When strong players defend weaker players (pure strength, not skill) it’s easy to feel that the weaker player always gets hacked. Lebron moved his feet just enough that he wasn’t really pulling Durant backwards, then Durant leaned back to take the shot because he assumed there’d be a hand in his face.

    Also..last 10 seconds of the game? Jeez I’ve seen that same play be a no call non-late-game situations.

  10. Brian says

    It’s idiotic to say that a foul shouldn’t be called during certain parts of the game. Let’s say the foul on James was called and Durant makes two free throws — no matter what the final outcome of the game, the call would not be controversial because the contact met the standard. This discussion wouldn’t even be happening. Let’s say that the game went to double overtime, and both stars ended up fouling out — instead we would be talking about one of the greatest games in the history of the NBA finals instead of how a foul call might have changed the outcome.

    Proponents of ignoring fouls at the end of the game generally reason that the whistle blowing keeps the players from deciding the game themselves. This is just plain stupid reasoning. The refs are there to make sure the rules are followed — for the entire game! To do otherwise is to mess up the game.
    Is a pro golfer allowed to mulligan the 18th hole after a poor shot just because he led by 5 strokes on the 12th hole and only 1 stroke on the 17th? Every sport has penalties for a reason — the rules are there so that skill wins. On that last shot, Durant had better position and movement than James. He may not have made the shot, but James shouldn’t be rewarded for a hack job, which is exactly what happened.

    As for other calls in the game:
    1. I didn’t think that Battier should have been called for the block – it was good defense. I also don’t think it met the standard for a charge as Battier was moving while Durant was in the air.
    2. I believe the goaltending call was incorrect, but that was a lot harder call to make than the foul non-call at the end of the game.
    3. Earlier in the game, fouls were called a couple of times when James went strong to the basket. It was very difficult to find the contact. These easily could have (and should have) not been called.
    4. Durant probably could have been called for fouls a couple more times earlier in the game, but they would have been really “ticky-tack”.

    When you add it all up, in a game this close, the calls can make the difference between winning and losing. Keep in mind that the Heat have only won 2 of 8 quarters, yet are tied in the series. You can credit them for lighting it up in the first quarter, but you have to also count them a bit lucky. The Thunder lost the game because:
    1. They did not make their free throws.
    2. Westbrook did not shoot well and had as many attempts as Durant.
    3. Durant got into foul trouble.
    4. The refs blew some big calls.

    • DTish says

      I stopped after your first sentence.
      You might think it’s idiotic. But for decades now, this is way it has been. At the end of games teams/players should have to make big shots to win. If refs started judging the last 2 minutes like the whole game you’d see even more ridiculous calls and more head-explosion reactions. Do you want to see a defensive 3-sec violation? Or how about a moving screen? Loose-ball foul on a miss? Those..and what happened in that last play are not what should determine an outcome…because at that point of the game both teams are playing much more aggressive.

  11. Arky says

    Respect, Sheridan. I think I have to take back your “Heat hater” card for this one.

    The refs almost never call fouls on last shots (remember Collison hitting Chalmers on the elbow on that last three-pointer during the Indiana series? We do!) unless it’s really, really egregious. This wasn’t. James and Wade probably got hit a half dozen times or more with no call which were at least as much foul as this. No-one wants to see constant whistles on small fouls, especially down the stretch. And hey, Durant could have fouled out on that charge on Battier…

    And, finally, even if the whisle blows, Durant has to make the free throws, and even if he does, Miami still has time for a bucket and overtime if they don’t get it.

    Miami probably got a bit lucky to hold on there. And it has to be a worry that they keep letting big leads slip. Still, they did what the Spurs couldn’t do and took one in OKC, and have home court advantage going to Miami. and we have a series on our hands, which is a win for basketball!

    • says

      Amen to this one, too. I am not much of a hater (certain airlines, cable networks and hotel chains excepted). I have been trained to bend over backward to be objective, and I take it very seriously. There has never been a game I have covered in which I gave a damn who won. I root for good stories. Period.

  12. Marcus says

    I think you guys are being too harsh on Chris. While it was clearly a foul by the definition of the rules, it did not affect his shot much (if at all) and the referees often swallow their whistles with the game on the line. Also, Jeff van Gundy’s grudge against the HEAT is well know. He is on the record about being upset at how the HEAT treated his brother.

  13. Claunchin says

    Man, if it was a foul (and with the rulebook in front of our eyes, it is a foul, no matter if it is intentionally or not) a non call NEVER is a good thing, is cheat no matter how funny is to see Lebron or Durant or Eddy Curry, cheating in sport is NEVER a good thing in sport. LeBron had 5 fouls made a msitake and fouled Durant, trying to hide his mistake for a “greater good” it´s unfair for basketball, for Durant, for OKC, FOR NBA and even for LeBron, a grow man has to deal with mistake and hide them by the refs or anybody is improductive for him And defending it being a resèctable writter is very sad.

  14. Alex says

    Seriously? He got his arms a “little locked up?” You criticize Van Gundy for being anti-Heat (which is a rather slimy charge) but won’t discuss your own biases? That was a foul pure and simple and it was not called. End of story. Just like the charging foul against Durant was not called. At least be a man and don’t spend thousands of words trying to parse what the meaning of “is” is. I have lost quite a bit of respect for your professionalism Mr. Sheridan.

  15. Jeff says

    You can’t right in one line of the column, “Yes, James’ arms got a little locked up with Durant’s. But was it incidental contact, or was it a foul? I am going with the former, not the latter, and with all due respect to Van Gundy, there is a question of whether that contact constituted a foul. In my book, it wasn’t.” Then later write, “Technically, was it a foul? Probably so.”
    Is it difficult sitting on that fence? Probably so! There is no, “in my book.” There is one book, the rule book. If the contact occurs it is a foul. There is no subrule, that states if there’s contact, but both men are superstars of their teams and there’s less than 10 seconds left, plus it’s the Finals, then it’s not a foul. KD should have been shooting free throws and I’m sick and tired of the NBA looking the other way when officials do it, and journalists like you talk out of both sides of your mouth and justify it.

    I referee high school basketball, and I find the best solution is to not look at the clock. If I need to know possession, then I ask. If I have a timing issue, I ask the official at the table. If I don’t know how much time is left (3 minutes or 3 seconds) then I call the game the same throughout. Maybe it’s time for the NBA to do the same, put a fourth official on the side lines and let him/her correct timing issues.

  16. Andrew says

    Jeff Van Gundy is not a Heat hater. He picked them to win 73 games a year ago. Jeff originally claimed that Lebron didn’t foul Durant and only changed his mind after watching the replay twice. Jeff from what I’ve heard is when I hear him calling games is pro-Lebron. He often talks about the criticism of Lebron is unfair and states that’s he’s the best player in the game.

  17. Carey Adams says

    Chris, you are a reporter not a blogger. It’s petty to call Van Gundy a Heat hater and spend a paragraph delving into his relationship with Pat Riley. Would you have written that if you agreed with the no call? LeBron hooked his arm and then pushed into Durant with his elbow. In any non-playoff game it would have been called. The star treatment and “playoff rules” are an albatross to the game. A foul should be a foul no matter who commits it or when it is committed.

  18. Joey says

    I agree with the premise of the article that it was a good no-call; refs swallow their whistles on those final possessions anyway. I’m not sure about the Van Gundy point though. Didn’t he predict the Heat wouldn’t lose more than 10 games last year?

  19. Rich says

    Is this column for real? So Jeff Van Gundy has an opinion about a foul call, and you throw this out there? That the only reason he could have possibly thought that a foul was because Stan Van Gundy was fired by Pat Riley? Sheridan, you’re a hack.

    And what the hell is a “great of salt?”

    • Carey Adams says

      Totally agree. I used to have a lot of respect for Chris. I don’t know what’s going on with him lately. If we want to talk about grudges, maybe we should talk about the one Chris seems to be harboring against ESPN for not backing him in his libel lawsuit against Peter Vecsey. He left the network because of it and now starts running their anchors through the mud? Or maybe that’s all a coincidence. Maybe Chris can stay objective but there’s no way Van Gundy can, right?


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