This one play is not why the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 5 on their home court. They lost because they gave up a 13-3 run to end the game. They lost because Oklahoma City is playing much better defense this series than expected and the Spurs offense isn’t handling it well. They lost because they did not solve the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter frontcourt lineup. And the list goes on from there.
Kawhi Leonard clearly fouled Russell Westbrook after the inbounds pass with 9.3 seconds to go, and not getting that call took away the Spurs chance to tie the game in the final seconds. It robbed them of an opportunity. That’s not to say they would have converted on that chance, but they never got it fairly.
The referees had to know the Spurs were looking to foul, and Leonard wrapped his arms around Westbrook’s waist and spun him. Westbrook is so strong he played right through that, then got to the rim for the and-1 foul on LaMarcus Aldridge, but Westbrook was fouled long before the shot. (Westbrook got lucky there, he should have dribbled out, taken more time off the clock and forced a foul, not tried to score — the Thunder needed to kill time. If he doesn’t get the and-1 call there he just would have given the Spurs more time and been down three.)
The usually reserved, not-wanting-another-fine Popovich said postgame it was clearly a foul, as did all the Spurs players asked. Because it was.
That’s the second time this series the referees have swallowed their whistles late in games missing blatant fouls. The two-minute report will reflect that, but what the report says is moot because it doesn’t change anything. I get that officials want the players to decide the game, but when there is an obvious foul in the final seconds — and this was an obvious foul — it has to be called.