The Brooklyn Nets are on fire and closing in on first place in the Eastern Conference. On Sunday night they escaped with a 112-108 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers to extend their winning streak to six games and move within a half-game of the top spot in the East.
With Kevin Durant still sidelined because of a hamstring injury, James Harden and Kyrie Irving led the way with a combined 65 points. 15 rebounds and 15 assists. Their strong play had the Nets in control heading into the fourth quarter. Up by as much as 15 early in the frame, it seemed like they were well on their way to another comfortable win.
Only the Clippers had other ideas. Paul George powered a late surge, and with 11 seconds left they had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. That’s where we’ll pick things up, because things got pretty controversial at this point.
The Clippers took the ball out of bounds in the frontcourt and ran a play to get Kawhi Leonard the ball at the top of the key. As Leonard curled toward the ball, James Harden got caught up just enough on a screen that Leonard had an angle to drive to the basket. He put his head down, barreled into the lane and laid the ball up and in for what he thought was the game-tying bucket.
Instead, the refs called an offensive foul that wiped it off the board, gave the Nets the ball and effectively ended the game. Here’s a look:
The general consensus was that it was a bad call, and it’s pretty hard to disagree. Leonard’s forearm does make contact with Harden’s chest, but there was no big push-off, and certainly nothing that should have sent the Nets star flailing backward. And besides, Harden initiates the contact in the first place by leaning on Leonard at the start of the drive.
This should have been a no-call, especially with the game on the line. You don’t want to completely change how you officiate in the closing seconds and ignore obvious calls just because the game is close, but at the same time the refs shouldn’t be deciding the outcome. Unfortunately, that’s what happened here.