OAKLAND, Calif. — Time was running out in a game earlier this season that Golden State was going to win by 10 points, and Andre Iguodala decided to take a 3-pointer instead of getting the Warriors charged with a shot-clock violation.
The Warriors’ opponent that night: Cleveland.
If an unwritten rule of basketball was broken, no one seemed bothered then. But in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when Shaun Livingston took a jumper with about 3 seconds left in overtime and the outcome decided, the Cavaliers’ feathers got ruffled and Tristan Thompson got ejected.
One can only guess how those emotions will affect things when the series resumes with Game 2 on Sunday night.
“I contested a shot that shouldn’t have been taken,” Thompson said.
“Whatever. Just play it to the end,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.
It’s a thorny issue with no solution.
Philadelphia and Miami jawed over late-game shot attempts in their playoff series this season. The 76ers and Cavs exchanged words over a Dario Saric dunk late in a blowout in March. The Warriors’ JaVale McGee got shoved by Washington’s Brandon Jennings while taking a late 3 in a rout last season. Toronto once sent about half its team to speak to Lance Stephenson after a late open layup in an Indiana win.
And now the rules — arbitrary as they may be — are up for debate in the NBA Finals after the Cavaliers took offence to the Warriors playing offence.
“I mean, it’s like the unspoken rule in the NBA: If you’re up by 10 or 11 with about 20 seconds left, you don’t take that shot,” Thompson said. “I made the contest, and next thing I know I was being kicked out for making a contest that we learn in training camp. I don’t know why I got thrown out.”
Referee Tony Brothers explained why postgame, saying he saw Thompson go into Livingston with his elbow high on that shot. In Brothers’ eyes, that merited the assessment of a flagrant-2 foul and ejection.
“It’s not affecting the outcome of the game,” Miami centre Kelly Olynyk said Friday from India, where he’s appearing at a Basketball Without Borders event for the NBA this week. “It doesn’t really matter to me. It doesn’t really make a difference to me. It doesn’t make a difference in the outcome of the game, win and loss record. If a guy wants two more points we’ll give it to him and move on.”
Thing is, the Warriors take those shots all the time. It’s basically a team policy. Since the start of the 2016-17 season when facing such a situation — time running out, shot clock still on, game outcome clearly decided — Golden State has been charged with a field-goal attempt 38 times, while committing only five shot-clock violations.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has a simple rule: Don’t partake in any habit that leads to a turnover.
His guys are listening.
“That’s our thing,” Golden State forward Kevin Durant said. “It’s no disrespect to any other team. It’s just what we do. We don’t want to take the turnover. We take the shot. So we’ve been doing that all year, since I’ve been here, too.”
For his part, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue shrugged off the Livingston shot Friday.
“Got to play to the buzzer,” Lue said. “They took a shot and that’s what they do. It doesn’t determine the game. The game was over. It’s no big deal to me. So, whatever.”
The three instances this season of the Warriors taking a shot-clock violation in those situations have one thing in common — they were all against New Orleans, and it should be noted that Kerr and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry are close friends.
Otherwise, they don’t take the foot off the gas.
In the past two seasons the Warriors have taken shots in the final seconds with leads of 30, 36, 44 and 45 points.
“I don’t think we would get on our feelings if somebody came down and finished out a possession and got a shot up,” Curry said. “I mean, obviously, if they’re doing some taunting or doing some crazy stuff, that’s a little different. But if you’re just playing the game of basketball and finishing out a possession instead of taking a turnover, I don’t see any problem with that at all. Guys are out there to finish a game and play the right way.”
Game 1 had a collection of wacky things happen in the final moments — an overturned block-charge call that left LeBron James livid, J.R. Smith’s baffling decision to run out the clock at the end of regulation, and James and Curry jawing at one another after the Warriors guard tried a layup on the possession before Livingston got fouled on his late shot.
And Cleveland hopes its frustration becomes fuel for Game 2.
“It’s not going to be a prom dance,” Cleveland’s George Hill said. “It’s going to be a fight.”