OKLAHOMA CITY — Of all the mind-altering moves Russell Westbrook made Friday night, the most important play for the Oklahoma City Thunder came from Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony.
Two of the Thunder’s locker room leaders spent a few minutes after the final buzzer bargaining with referee Derrick Stafford. Security had already come on the court to later help the other two officials, Ben Taylor and Leon Wood, to the locker room. The sellout crowd had mostly stayed in its seats following the Milwaukee Bucks’ 97-95 victory — just so it could boo the three refs as they jogged into the tunnel.
Unlike many of Westbrook’s, Anthony’s and Adams’ play didn’t work. The Thunder committed plenty of other mistakes in a loss that would end their six-game losing streak and drop them to 20-16 on the season. None, however, was more obvious or altering than the one that occurred with two seconds remaining.
“I guess we'll see something on the ticker that says the referees missed that one,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We can't do nothing about that at this point, so we might as well forget about it.”
Westbrook had just hit a contested 3 from the right wing to tie a game the Thunder never led at 95 with only 4.7 seconds remaining. He had bricked a triple from the exact same spot only half-a-minute earlier, falling short on a momentum 3 while down 93-90.
One Milwaukee timeout and a few seconds later, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo found himself faced up against Thunder wing Josh Huestis. Huestis forced him baseline, where Antetounmpo stepped out of bounds. No call. The rangy scorer, whose arms nearly reach to the opposite corner when he’s under the basket, finished a two-handed pseudo-dunk over Westbrook, who came over in help and nearly blocked the never-ended man. A Westbrook 65-footer fell short with 1.3 seconds later.
"I couldn't see that," Westbrook said. "I was trying to stop it, but I have to think you've seen it. It's over now. It don't matter."
The Thunder wanted a review of the play. It never came. Stafford clarified to a pool reporter “In any reviewable matter, there has to be a whistle called on the floor. There was no whistle blown for the play, so we couldn’t review it.”
Donovan wouldn’t quite argue if he believed such a play should be reviewable.
“I look at things totally differently,” he said. “The league and the officials have to deal with that. That’s what they're in control of...Obviously, he stepped out of bounds. Everybody knows that."
Anthony’s and Adams’ best arguments didn’t work.
“I just asked them kind of what was their thought process on it and perspective on it,” Anthony said. “I don't know. I guess we'll see tomorrow morning, or tonight, when it comes across.”
The Thunder didn’t make things easy on themselves, of course. They got down 18-3 to begin the night. They trailed by as many as 22 midway through the second quarter on a night they were missing Paul George, who was out with soreness in his left knee.
Shooting guard Alex Abrines started in his place, but played only 10 minutes. Huestis started the second half. It was the most obvious switch for Donovan, who played with rotations for much of the game’s early portion, trying to figure out what could work in George’s absence.
“I was hopeful that Josh’s length could create some problems,” Donovan said. “He could rebound the ball. He could do some different things, and I thought Josh did a really good job tonight.”
It led to Huestis being in there on the Bucks’ final play, which occurred not long after defensive stopper Andre Roberson exited because of an undisclosed injury. It didn’t have to end that way for either team. The Thunder could have played with more energy early. The Bucks could have held onto a massive lead.
But neither team could.
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.