UPDATE: L2M report indicates that the call was correct. The only error made by the officials was not calling Mason Plumlee for a foul on Marc Gasol with 1:13 left to play.
The Portland Trail Blazers led by 11 points with less than six minutes remaining against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, but managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory through their own poor execution and, perhaps, that of the officials. At least, that is the way the team tells it; some by not telling at all, in order to keep from being fined.
With the game tied 86-86 in the final seconds, Grizzlies guard Toney Douglas stepped back for a long two in the right corner, hounded by Damian Lillard. He hung in the air, wrenched his body, drew the foul, and missed badly. His free throws with 0.5 seconds left iced the game.
In the locker room, Lillard walked through his version of the play for the media:
"He shoved me off. And when he pushed off, I knew they wouldn't make that call at that time in the game. When he pushed me off, I felt like his arm got caught in my jersey... he went to raise up and because of that, we got tangled up a little bit. I got off balance a little bit. I knew he had to raise up and shoot the ball, so on the way up, it was a little bit of contact. But it wasn't caused by me. I think with him pushing off and getting tangled up with me, that caused a little bit of contact. Point five seconds left, that can't decide the game. Obviously, I think we had plenty of opportunities to not let it come down to that. We didn't play our greatest offensive game. But on the last play like that, you've got to let us decide the game."
Now, realistically, the push-off was minimal, as was the tangling, and it did not cause Lillard to hit Douglas on the elbow (twice) or jump into his right hip in the air. It is possible that if Lillard had the benefit of reviewing the film before making his statement, as we do right now, his stance would be different. It is also possible that it just is what it is; a bad excuse.
His teammates, however, did back him up, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian notes:
Added McCollum: "They've got enough of my money. If he called a foul, it was a foul. They're not getting no more of my money."
Regardless, you hate to see a game decided at the free throw line. In many cases, this would be considered a “play on” possession because of the point in the game when it occurred. That is the sturdiest leg for Portland to stand on here—wobbly as it is—because, by the letter of the law, this was a properly called foul.
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments below.