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Referees take center stage as Spurs defeat Warriors, 110-108

The Warriors and Spurs played a seesaw battle that ended with two of the worst foul calls you’ll ever see in the final seconds and a clutch free throw rebound.

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
The most memorable man from tonight’s game was official Marat Kogut.
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

With seconds remaining in their back-and-forth tilt on Sunday night, the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs were deadlocked at 107. Josh Richardson had nailed a wide-open three-pointer to take the lead, Jordan Poole answered with a running layup to tie it, and after a Jordan Poole miss, Jonathan Kuminga saved a rebound to Andrew Wiggins while flying out of bounds. Then the officials called their own numbers.

Wiggins was trapped along the sideline by two Spurs, and when the whistle blew, everyone in the arena assumed that the Warriors had used their last timeout to set up a final play. But no, it was the touchiest of touch fouls, frankly undetectable on replay, and Wiggins was sent to the line. He hit the first free throw, and since Maple Jordan has been shooting like Maple Biedrins recently (6-18 on free throws since the All-Star break, before Sunday’s game), Coach Steve Kerr decided he needed a better rebounder next to the Spurs’ Jacob Poeltl. In came Kevon Looney for Kuminga, off the iron went Wiggins’ second free throw, and out came the whistle. Another inexplicable foul call, this time sending Poeltl to the line for two freebies.

Poeltl tied the game with his first free throw, and when he missed the second, Dejounte Murray flew in to tip the rebound to Keldon Johnson, who laid the ball in for the game-winning bucket.

After the game, Kerr was befuddled. “I thought the two fouls at the end were bizarre,” he said. “I don’t know how those calls can be made. To call fouls in that situation - both of them, one that went for us, one that went against us... I don’t know how we can decide the game based on plays that have nothing to do with the game. Players are supposed to decide the game.”

It wasn’t the only ref show of the game. Remember referee Marat Kogut, who stole a game from the Warriors back in 2019 (He bizarrely ruled a Kevin Durant’s four-point play was a non-shooting foul, Steph Curry hit a game-tying three and pointed at him, and then the officials called a phantom foul on Durant with 0.5 to give the T-Wolves the win)? Steph Curry called him “the MVP of tonight” after that game, and Durant called him “the best player on the floor.” When he whistled Draymond Green for a foul on Devin Vassell in the third quarter, Green argued with Kogut, who quickly gave him a technical (Vassell missed the free throw, to widespread shouts of “Ball don’t lie!”). Draymond was still arguing when Vassell fouled Wiggins eight seconds later, and after he told Kogut, “Nah, you messed up!” Kogut tossed him. To be fair, Kogut didn’t make either of the horrendous calls in the final seconds, so he probably wasn’t in fact the MVP of last night.

This is not to pin all the responsibility on the officials. The real lesson in the loss is, Get a free-throw rebound! And stop yelling after one technical!

Poole led the Warriors with 28 points in the losing effort, including 11 in the final quarter. Klay Thompson had 24 and shot 6-12 from three-point range, while Porter filled in admirably for Draymond with 16 points and a whopping 16 rebounds, including eight offensive rebounds, four of which came during the Warriors initial comeback in the second quarter. Nemanja Bjelica had a Draymond-esque line of 9 points, 9 rebounds, and a team-high 6 assists, Wiggins put up 16 points and snagged 8 rebounds, and Jonathan Kuminga had 9 points and five rebounds, including two he snagged while leaping out of bounds.

For the Spurs, Dejounte Murray led a balanced attack with 19 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, while Jakob Poeltl dominated inside with 14 rebounds. Josh Richardson led the Spurs with 25 points, including a clutch three in the fourth, after the Warriors’ defensive Achilles heel - overhelping - left him wide open. Keldon Johnson had 12 points and the game-winner, Vassell made three three-pointers and nabbed three steals, and rookie Josh Primo, the NBA’s youngest player, had 11 points in a strong game.

The Dubs started the game flat, perhaps the result of yet another lineup shuffle. Draymond returned to the starting lineup, the first time he’d been in an opening five with Klay Thompson since the 2019 Finals. Poole started in the back court, and Wiggins returned after mjssing two games with an illness. Green picked up two quick fouls and two quick turnovers, and when he and Klay committed three-shot fouls on consecutive possessions, the Spurs took an early 22-10 lead.

Then Otto Porter Jr. started to cook, scoring eight points in the final four minutes of the quarter. Unfortunately, so did San Antonio’s Zach Collins, who scored eight of his 11 points in the final 2:22, including a three-pointer with two seconds left that made it 36-22.

Perhaps energized by the quarter break performer, a juggling and tumbling nine-year-old “third-generation circus performer” named Valeria, Klay Thompson put on his own show, scoring eight points in the first two minutes of the quarter and sinking the Warriors’ first two threes of the game, to cut the lead to five.

After a Josh Richardson flurry pushed the lead back to ten, point center Bjelica nailed a three and cut the lead to four. But the Warriors simply couldn’t climb all the way back. A Poole jumper made the lead four - and Tre Jones followed a three-pointer with a three-point play. Maybe that’s why Draymond was so agitated - seeing another Duke player hitting big threes against a Michigan State guy. Draymond will be collecting on his bet with Steph Curry after his Spartans took out Curry’s Davidson team, but Steph didn’t have to wear the Sparty costume because he was in a walking boot.

Golden State cut the lead to 57-55 late, after Draymond delivered two dimes and sunk two free throws. But once again, the Warriors gave up threes late, with a Devin Vassell buzzer-beater giving the Spurs a six-point lead going into the break.

Things looked bleak after Draymond’s ejection in the third, but the Warriors rallied behind Porter’s rebounding and some excellent defense. Klay hit two three-pointers, and you know he appreciated that the team held San Antonio scoreless for the final 4:20 of the quarter. After a Bjelica dunk, the Warriors entered the 4th clinging to an 84-83 lead.

It didn’t last. A combination of Warriors’ turnovers and Spurs offensive rebounds let San Antonion take a four-point lead, before Thompson hit another three. And then came the most controversial coaching decision of the game - yes, even more than subbing in Kevon Looney seconds before his foul. Klay Thompson was called for a shooting foul on Richardson behind the three-point line, and urged Kerr to challenge the call. When the officials did, they confirmed the foul call, and added a flagrant foul. The net result was three Spurs free throws, plus the ball, and the Warriors were down to two timeouts with 8:36 to go.

Thompson answered with another triple, but three-balls from Jones and Richardson pushed the lead to 101-92 and forced a Kerr timeout. Wiggins and Porter returned and the defense tightened up. Poole went on a personal 7-0 run, and even drew a charge along the way, and when Wiggins banked in a jumper after a sweet spin move the game was, improbably, all tied up.

Despite missing a free throw late, Wiggins had an excellent return game, showing the offensive aggressiveness than fans and coaches have wanted to see from him late. Kuminga was reliable and often times wildly impressive late in this game, and Jordan Poole ably pulled off a Steph Curry impression. The Warriors played hard defense, got key rebounds, and hit big shots in crunch time. The only thing they failed to do was, you know, win.

It’s a tough loss to end the homestand for the Dubs, who now face a brutal road trip featuring five games in seven games, capped off by a game in Memphis against the Grizzlies. Like a leaky bag of chicken feed, the Warriors are in danger of losing their seed, and dropping below the Utah Jazz for 4th in the West. Despite the valiant effort, the Warriors will be left asking themselves questions. Why can’t Wiggins shoot free throws anymore? Why didn’t anyone box out Dejounte Murray? Why do they keep fouling three-point shooters? And how long is Marat Kogut going to hold a grudge?