“We made a comedy of errors, but having said that we still deserved the right to win the game … That could be a series defining call”
That was Clippers head coach Doc Rivers speaking after the game about the crucial call that cost the Clippers a game 5 victory in Oklahoma, and possibly the series. The Clippers were 13 ahead with 4 minutes to go, then 7 ahead with around 49 seconds remain. They contrived to lose the game from there, mixing themselves a poisonous cocktail of errors and mental lapses, garnished with some bad calls from the officials. The moment Rivers was visibly furious about in the post-game press conference was a decision concerning a possession review. OKC’s Reggie Jackson was fouled by Matt Barnes. The foul was not called, which it should have been. The ball was forced out by the scuffle and the call on the court was that it was Oklahoma’s ball. Because it the fourth quarter and the game clock had less than two minutes remaining, a replay review was necessary to confirm the call. The replay seemed to point that it had actually touched Jackson last before flying out of bounds, although, admittedly, it wasn’t utterly obvious on the replay. The original call eventually was ruled to be a good one, to the incensed protestations of Rivers and the bench.
Chris Paul, perhaps losing focus out of pure frustration, proceeded to foul Russell Westbrook while he was shooting a three pointer. Even though the foul was soft in the extreme, it was a terrible position to put himself in, and Paul said as much in the post-game press conference. Westbrook, on the other hand, emphasized in his conference that Paul had indeed fouled him on the shot. Westbrook made all three to put the Thunder up by one with less than ten seconds remaining. Chris Paul turned the ball over in the last possession and that was game over. “I’m not sure what he was doing” sighed Rivers after the game about the last possession, and Paul looked totally distraught with the result, and his own personal errors down the stretch. “It’s bad, just so bad” Paul repeated.
Rivers, as his conference went on, eventually admitted that the Jackson/Barnes call was not the sole reason why the Clippers lost the game. But his point that the officials didn’t give Clippers possession because they were “making up for the no-call on the foul” was interesting. It seems to happen a lot, as might be expected when you look at the flaws in the review system. The referees couldn’t rule on whether it was a foul or not because no foul had been called before the review. It seems strange to the outside viewer that they can’t just add a new call in when a replay shows that a missed infringement occurred. But because it can’t be, the suspicion (one that Rivers explicitly stated after the game) is that the officials try to deal out a sort of vigilante justice by righting the scales in other ways. Errors that are compounded by errors, that the officials try to rectify with a deliberately bad call, well, the whole thing is not the way a review system should work. Doc Rivers tried to bolster his team afterwards, saying that “there are still two more games to come”, the assumption being the Clippers will win the next one. But the reality is that such a collapse, when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, will hit the Clippers hard. “It hurts… but we’ll be ready [for the next game]” said Rivers. The Clippers will be hoping they can prove their coach right on that point. And they will also hope to prove him wrong by making sure they don’t let that one bad call define the series.