SPORTS

A Trainwreck Of Bad Refereeing Just Saved The NBA Playoffs

The end to Thunder-Spurs was the best thing that could have happened.

NBA fans in general and San Antonio Spurs fans in particular are furious about the refereeing at the end of Game 2 of the second-round series between the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night. With just seconds remaining, Thunder guard Dion Waiters shoved Manu Ginóbili while trying to inbound the ball. The play was illegal, but no foul was called. And then the Thunder won, 98-97.

The entire final 13.5 seconds that came after the shove was absolutely bonkers, too, and many, many other things were not caught by the refs. Like Ginóbili maybe stepping on the line.

Or a full second coming off the clock before the ball even reached Kevin Durant’s hands.

Or this fan that grabbed Steven Adams in the commotion following the inbounds:

Or the fact that Durant and Aldridge were probably fouled, too.

After the game ended, TNT analyst Chris Webber, who knows a thing or two about traumatic late-game situations, called the situation “terrible.” Gregg Popovich more quietly stated, "Something certainly happened on the sideline, I thought." Heck, even the refs admitted they should have called an offensive foul on Waiters. 

The situation was chaotic, and arguably embarrassing for the NBA, the league that has taken pains to improve officiating in the wake of the Tim Donaghy scandal. Today, people are having a ball writing, tweeting and joking about all the above screw-ups, per NBA playoff tradition. It's only a matter of minutes until people start posting conspiracy theory videos on YouTube.

But let’s be honest, and let’s be clear: The 2016 NBA playoffs have been predictable, boring and uninspired thus far, and what happened in San Antonio Monday night was the best thing that could have happened to save them. People are fighting. People are riled up. Suddenly, Game 3 between the Spurs and Thunder on Friday is must-see TV. Suddenly, the NBA playoffs are fun again! 

With apologies to the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers -- the four teams involved in the first round’s two Game 7s -- the playoffs were setting up to be one huge letdown before last night. Round 1 felt like a neverending series of high-profile injuries, boring blowouts and close games between teams with little chance of winning the championship.

In the Eastern Conference, LeBron James' road to a sixth straight NBA Finals has long felt all but certain, making whatever happens in the series leading up to it largely irrelevant. And, anyway, when you're relying on the Hornets to get your fix of NBA playoff greatness, there's probably a bigger issue there. 

In the Western Conference, we were forced to pretend to care about the Thunder clobbering the Dallas Mavericks and the Spurs destroying the Memphis Grizzlies, then we were robbed of the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul facing off against reigning MVP Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors in the second round after both went down in the first. Spurs-Thunders was supposed to save us from the second-round doldrums, but then on Saturday night, Game 1 ended in a 32-point victory for Coach Pop and Co. It was depressing, but more importantly, it was just kind of boring. 

Suddenly, however, we have a series that the entire NBA world can zero in on. We have a controversy, and anger, and passion -- and, most important, real intrigue. The series would have gotten a good-enough boost by way of a close game on Monday night, but now Spurs-Thunder has woken the NBA world up. The Thunder, who very few people picked to come out of the series, have stolen home-court advantage, and now, we're in for a multi-game bar fight. Russell Westbrook might jump through the rim. Steven Adams might break the hardwood. These might be the last games of Tim Duncan's career. They might be Durant's last games in a Thunder uniform (OK, probably not, but you know). 

The main point is this: Now everyone is pissed off about last night. It's "The Dress" of 2016 professional sports -- everyone has an opinion on what happened. The end of the game was an unmitigated disaster, a trainwreck for the ages. It wasn’t fair to Spurs fans, but then again, it wasn't fair to Steven Adams either. At least we finally have the kind of series that it feels like we’ll be talking about years from now. The referees screwed up the end of the game mightily, thank the lord. Finally, everyone has something to scream about. 

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