There is an adage in boxing that Manny Pacquiao is very familiar with these days: Never leave it in the hands of the judges.
The young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder found out the hard way in a 100-96 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Down two in the waning seconds, veteran OKC guard Derek Fisher inbounded the ball to Kevin Durant, who quickly got the baseline on LeBron James and launched a contested five-footer that found iron.
James secured the rebound and was fouled. Two free throws from "The King" sealed the deal for the Heat as the Thunder lost for the first time at home in this postseason (9-1) and will head to South Florida tied at a game apiece instead of enjoying a 2-0 advantage.
Replays showed James clearly fouling Durant on Oklahoma City's final opportunity, but referee Dan Crawford was in bad position and didn't see the contact to the inside of Durant's body.
Never leave it in the hands of the judges.
To their credit, the Thunder didn't belabor the no-call, understanding they were lucky to even have a chance after their latest dismal effort to start the game.
"We were supposed to run a little pin-down play, but Fish made a great pass," Durant said. "I was open, and I missed the shot. I think I shot a good shot. That's a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed."
Pressed with the question, "Are you saying you don't think you got mugged by LeBron on that last play?" Durant simply said, "I missed the shot, man."
OKC coach Scott Brooks took a similar tact when asked about the potential foul.
"That's one play," Brooks said. "We have so many other plays that we could have done better to put us in a position to stay closer in the game. I'm not going to get into that. I haven't in the past, I'm not going to start doing it now. It was a play, he didn't get the call."
Brooks understood it was about the first quarter, not Crawford's silent whistle in the fourth. Durant and Co. had a chance to put a stranglehold on the Finals but didn't, largely because they missed the memo announcing the 8:07 (CT) tip- off time.
The Heat raced out to an 18-2 advantage in Game 2 as Russell Westbrook made bad decision after bad decision and Durant hurled up a number of questionable shots early.
"The bottom line is we play aggressive basketball, we play tough basketball, and we didn't do that to start the game," Brooks said. "The last minute, I won't even look at that."
Dwyane Wade, heavily criticized after a pedestrian Game 1, started strong for the Heat and tallied 13 first-half points. James, meanwhile, was his usual brilliant self and Shane Battier continued to play sniper from long range as Miami dominated the early action, going up by 17 on more than one occasion before taking a somewhat comfortable lead for much of the game.
"We were trying to play to our identity. (Wade) set the tone at the beginning," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
The score may have been even more lopsided if it weren't for the play of James Harden, who buoyed his floundering squad while Durant and Westbrook struggled to get going.
Harden had 17 points in the first half -- including 10 in the first quarter -- while Durant had six on 3-of-9 shooting and Westbrook scored nine while going 2-of-10 from the field.
It was the third straight awful start in the postseason for the Thunder, who weren't quite talented enough this time to overcome it.
So what's the answer?
Westbrook was certainly playing too fast early and his decision-making was awful early, but as bad as the UCLA product was in the opening quarter, that's how good he was late.
"I just thought I was playing my game, got easy shots that I usually make, lay-ups, just playing my game," Westbrook said of his slow start. "Unfortunately, the shots weren't falling."
Durant, meanwhile, was pressing in the opening moments and not getting to the spots on the floor he likes.
"Oh, man, that was the game. We can't start off down 18-2," the superstar understated. "Thinking about it, though, I think we got some good looks. We missed a few chippies, lay-ins, but we can't get down that much, especially at home. We've got to correct it. We've got to just stay positive, man."
Brooks has two days to correct things before Game 3 Sunday in Miami.
He could overreact and make lineup changes or stay the course and hope his two bell cows decide to play the way they can before the second half.
"We have to come out with better execution," the OKC mentor said. "We have to come out better, better defensive balance, better offensive execution. It's tough to come back when you're down. We're an aggressive team, we're a physical team, the defensive mind-set was not where it needs to be, and hopefully we change that going into Game 3."