Sunday, February 25, 2024

Blazers to protest loss to Thunder, contend that Chauncey Billups clearly called timeout, per report

The Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn’t have had much trouble with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, but the NBA is a strange league. Sometimes a 29-13 juggernaut can struggle at home against a 12-30 cellar-dweller. The Blazers got hot from deep. The Thunder got a terrible bounce all night. And when Anfernee Simons nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 30.1 seconds to go to give Portland a 109-106 lead, it looked like the Blazers might actually escape the Paycom Center with the upset. And then the game got drunk.

Let’s start with the easy part. The Thunder called a timeout and could have tried to draw up a game-tying 3-pointer. Instead, they opted for a quick two. Jalen Williams pulled into a nine-foot jumper to cut the deficit to one with 25.1 seconds left.

With 25.1 seconds left, the Thunder didn’t technically have to foul. They could have played out the possession, gotten the ball back, called timeout and tried to draw up one last play. So they didn’t immediately foul. They tried to force a turnover, and they were successful. They trapped Malcolm Brogdon. Both he and head coach Chauncey Billups tried to call a timeout, but the refs didn’t stop the play, so when he put the ball on the ground again, he was called for a double-dribble with 15.6 seconds remaining.

Chauncey Billups was incensed. Instead of trying to expand his lead on offense, his Blazers suddenly needed to play defense to preserve the win. So he exploded at the official and got called for a technical foul. Yet he wouldn’t calm down, so in short order, he was whistled for a second technical foul and ejected.

This gave the Thunder, trailing by one, two free throws and possession on what the Blazers believed should have been a timeout. Surely they put the game away immediately… right? Well… not exactly. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed the first of his two technical free throws, his fourth miss at the line on the night. Fortunately, he drilled the second to tie the score. Jalen Williams gave the Thunder their lead with two seconds remaining on the clock.

The Blazers still had one chance left to tie the game and send it to overtime, but they came up short as a potential lob pass from Brogdon to Deandre Ayton got broken up.

Hours after the game, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Blazers plan to protest the loss with the league office. Their contention is that Billups clearly called timeout before the official whistled Brogdon for the double-dribble. Crew chief Bill Kennedy explained to the pool reporter after the game that the official in question could need to see Billups calling the timeout.

“The referee in the slot position was refereeing the double team that was right in front of him, which makes it difficult for number one to hear and number two to see a coach request a timeout behind him,” Kennedy said. “He is taught to referee the play until completion, which a double dribble happens, and he correctly calls the double dribble and then pursuant (to that) the technical fouls come forward.”

From a pure analytic perspective, the loss wasn’t that devastating for Portland. ESPN’s win probability metric never had them above 79.5% to win the game. But the sheer manner in which they lost is among the strangest defeats any team has suffered this season. They had the ball with 25 seconds left and the lead and somehow didn’t get up one more shot at either the line or from the floor. After the game, their mind was still on that missed timeout.

“This was a tough situation,” Billups said after the game. “We’ve got timeouts. Referees usually are prepared for that, that instance, that situation. I’m at halfcourt trying to call a timeout. It’s just a frustrating play. My guys played too hard for that. It’s a frustrating play.”

Brogdon was even madder. “Chaunce, the whole staff, was calling timeout,” he said in his post-game media availability. “I turned literally to the ref on the sideline, clearly the ref didn’t want us to have a timeout, so we couldn’t get one. I get scratched in the face, I’m bleeding at the end. This one’s not on us.”

The loss doesn’t mean much in itself to the Blazers, who are far out of the playoff victory, but the win could mean everything to the Thunder. Their victory took their record to 30-13, bringing them into a tie for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets. The Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves and Clippers are all within one loss of each other. A single win or loss could wind up having enormous seeding implications. The Thunder escaped with an unlikely one on Tuesday, and that could make all of the difference in April.

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