Kevin Durant goes up for shot against LeBron James in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. -- Photo Courtesy: Getty Images
OKLAHOMA CITY - Foul? What foul?
Contact, maybe, but no whistle. What some observers thought they witnessed in the closing seconds of Thursday night's Game 2 of the NBA Finals - LeBron James putting his big mitts all over Kevin Durant during a crucial shot attempt - will go down in history as one of those what-if moments.
It is no secret that, in sports, superstars sometimes receive favorable calls (or non-calls). In this case, two megastars were involved in a potential game-deciding play - three-time NBA MVP James vs. three-time league scoring king Durant.
In the final 12 seconds of Thursday night's heart-stopper, with the Heat desperately trying to preserve a 98-96 lead, Durant took a pass from Thunder guard Derek Fisher. Durant aggressively made a quick move toward the baseline and launched a 7-foot fall-away jumper.
In what might otherwise have been considered a broad daylight mugging had James not roughed up Durant inside the brightly lit Chesapeake Energy Arena, the man they call The Chosen One used his powerful 6-8 frame to manhandle Durant and knock him slightly off stride.
The potential game-tying shot went awry.
Presumably, NBA conspiracy theorists immediately began wildly texting each other.
"I was open and I missed the shot," said Durant, the ever-polite 23-year-old superstar.
Asked if there was contact - which a television replay clearly indicated there was - the 6-9 forward hedged again.
"I was just worrying about the shot; I really couldn't tell you," he said.
Then, Durant added, with the straightest of faces: "I've got to watch the film, I guess."
Or put on those trendy, oversized "nerd'' glasses and pop some real lenses in them.
Pressed further and asked if he really believed he had not been fouled by James, Durant quietly replied, "I missed the shot, man."
James ended up with two more free throws after Durant's miss, finishing the game 12-for-12 at the line and with 32 points, the fifth consecutive game he has surpassed 30 or more. The Heat won 100-96, snapping the Thunder's nine-game playoff home winning streak, one victory shy of tying the NBA record set by several franchises.
James and Durant each finished with a game-high 32 points.
In the final seven minutes, James exclusively guarded Durant because, as he said, "I want to guard the best at the biggest point of the game."
"I figured they were going to go to him," James said. "He got a small step on me. I just wanted to try to keep a body on him, make him take a tough shot. He's made tough shots all year, all series, and that one he just missed."
Some body. The Heat list James at 250 pounds. Right.
Asked if he would have been upset to hear an official's whistle on the play, James said, "I mean, as a competitor, of course you would have been angry."
As boos cascaded down from the stands, James made his final two free throws of the evening, giving him a perfect 12-for-12 at the line. In moments, the Heat triumphantly strode off the court and tying series at 1-1. The teams head to Miami for Game 3 on Sunday.
Even Scott Brooks, Durant's coach, was hesitant to openly criticize the non-call, perhaps cognizant of the potential repercussions.
"That would have been a nice opportunity for us to make that or get to the free-throw line and send it into overtime," Brooks said. "But, unfortunately, we didn't get the play and we moved on."
There was at least one Oklahoma City player who called it the way he thought he saw it.
"In my opinion, I think it was (a foul), but I'm not the referee," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "He must have seen something different.
"But it shouldn't have come down to that possession. We should have put ourselves in a position that it didn't come down to the last shot."
By Jon Saraceno