There is no truth whatsoever to the rumor that the NBA’s league office issued the following statement following the late foul call near the end of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 115-111 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night at the Target Center:
NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2014 — Through postgame video review, we have determined that Minnesota’s Kevin Love was, in fact, not fouled on his 3-point attempt with 2.2 seconds left and his team trailing 113-111. After all, when Love missed the first two free throws and even intentionally missed the third, the result was no different than if his 3-pointer had bounced off and been grabbed by Oklahoma City.
Oh, and that review-and-reversal from Monday night? We take that back too.
If Timberwolves fans want to find a sliver of silver lining in the Thunder loss Saturday, they might reconsider how badly – or not – their favorite team got jobbed when Shawn Marion‘s swipe at Love’s 2-pointer in the closing seconds Dec. 30 against Dallas. Yes, the NBA admitted, Marion did foul Love on his right arm and Love should have shot two free throws with one second left, giving him a chance to tie at 100-98.
But who’s to say the Wolves’ power forward would have made both, or even one? The surreal moment Saturday when Love shot and missed three times with a chance to tie or win against OKC suggests he might have come up short – or flat, as his attempts Saturday looked – against the Mavericks as well. There’s at least a little more doubt now that Love and Minnesota automatically would have forced overtime.
Then again, even if Love had bricked one or both against Dallas Monday, the officiating crew getting the call right would have provided him with recent familiarity for what he wound up facing Saturday. And to a man, the Minnesota club seemed quite comfortable with him getting yet another chance. “I’ll take K-Love in that situation no matter what,” Corey Brewer said. “he missed them tonight. Next time he’ll make them.”
Love’s confidence hasn’t been rattled, that’s for sure, as noted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“Just missed them,” said Love, who missed four consecutive free throws in the final 27 seconds. “I’ll put me on the free-throw line every single time. First time in my career in a situation like that where I’ve missed four straight. I’m an 80-85 percent free-throw shooter. Tonight it didn’t fall.
“I’m sure people will say what they have to say. That’s fine. In this league, you come back. You try to fight the next day.”
Said Wolves coach Rick Adelman: “It’s just one of those things. It happens to the best of players.”
The finish obscured the overall quality of the contest, particularly Kevin Durant‘s monster scoring performance: 48 points on 16-of-32 shooting with 23 points in the final quarter of a game in which he logged 42:51 minutes. Love scored 30 with 14 rebounds and Nikola Pekovic had 31 and 11, and OKC rookie Steven Adams had 10 and 9 off the bench in 15:32.
Oh, and lest anyone objects by saying Love’s final miss Saturday was intentional, know this: Yeah, it was intentional. But missing the rim entirely was not intentional. If the idea is to put the ball on the rim so that it rolls or bounces off to set up a tip-in or buzzer-beater, then banging the ball off the glass without touching the rim qualifies as a miss in our books here at HTB headquarters.
Frankly, if the analytics smart set wants to track something new, I’d love to see the numbers when NBA players are actually trying to miss their free throws intentionally. This is purely anecdotal, but a high percentage sure seem to miss the rim entirely via airball or glass-only – or inadvertently put them in. It’s such a contrary act compared to all their training and practice.
A final irony of Love’s late misses was how they contributed to a telling deficit at the foul line. Minnesota had been outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per game on free throws, the biggest gap since at least 1970-71. The Wolves were running a bigger surplus than the 1981-82 Denver Nuggets (7.8) or the 1985-86 Philadelphia 76ers (7.1).
So what does OKC do? Outscores Minnesota 27-18 from the line Saturday, including 10-3 in the fourth quarter. When a foe takes away one of your greatest strengths – Durant shot 12-of-13 and the rest of the Thunder who toed the line were perfect – you’re in for a long night.
Love’s free-throw adventure at the end just made it feel a little longer.