This is why we watch sports. This is why we watch sports? This is why we watch sports!
Pick your own punctuation. Any of them fit the final 13.5 seconds of Monday night's 98-97 Thunder victory over the Spurs, a result that at least temporarily made this a very compelling Western Conference semifinal series.
So many things went wrong — including the NBA admitting there were five incorrect no-calls — in those final 13.5 seconds that the temptation is to try to add them all up, put them on both sides of the ledger and deem what is fair or not. But like any unbelievable sports sequence, each moment is wholly dependent on the preceding moment. There is no fair or unfair. There is only a result. This is how we got there:
•Up one point, with the ball out of bounds, the Thunder sent Dion Waiters to the sideline for an inbound pass. I can think of a lot of people I would trust with this kind of pass before I would trust Waiters. Some of them are Twitter friends I played basketball with this past Saturday while some of them are actual members of the Oklahoma City Thunder. So this is where the calamity began.
•Waiters, being pestered by Manu Ginobili, was having a hard time getting the ball in. His five seconds were winding down. So he leaned in, created some space with his elbow by essentially shoving Manu with it, jumped and threw a pass wildly into the middle of the court. None of this was a good idea. Two of the things — intentionally elbowing a player and, in fact, jumping while throwing an inbound pass of this variety — are against NBA rules.
•So the Spurs got robbed, right? Well, not exactly. Replays show Ginobili was entirely too close to Waiters. In fact, at one point, his foot is out of bounds. That, too, is a violation. And you could argue that Ginobili's violation caused Waiters' other two violations, since if he wasn't so close there would be no need for the elbow or the leap.
It was all so confounding that the NBA Referees official Twitter account on Tuesday posted this tweet: "The end of game inbound foul in #OKCvsSAS was one we've never seen before & we missed it. We'll incorporate this in training moving forward."
If you'd prefer to square the ledger and have the violations cancel out, let's just take Waiters' pass at face value — a desperate, awkward heave that was stolen by the Spurs. So this is where the calamity continued.
•The Spurs had the ball and looked as if they might get an easy layup, but Danny Green's pass down the court was a little too long, forcing Patty Mills to corral it instead of coasting in for a quick score. Mills got the ball to Ginobili, who drove to the basket, drew defenders and threw a wild pass to the corner, where Mills launched an air ball. The ball fell to the Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge, who lost it (perhaps because he was being grabbed). Kawhi Leonard tried to grab it. And time, somehow, expired — 13.5 seconds that seemed like they vanished in a second despite also feeling like they lasted a minute.
If you like weirdness and wildness in your sports finishes, this was your nirvana. And if you like it when the refs let 'em play, you were satisfied at the end of this game. No instant replay changing things and erasing history. Potential violations left and right, but at the end of the day: a steal that maybe deserved to happen, a shot to win that resulted, and a miss.
OK, yes, this is definitely why we watch sports.