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).
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:
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.