When asked to comment on the play, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said, “Something certainly happened on the sideline, I thought.”
Ginobili smiled when asked to retell the sequence: “Didn’t you see it?” he said.
Billy Donovan, the Oklahoma City coach, turned a question from a reporter about the play into an awkward, minute-long back-and-forth in which he ultimately pleaded ignorance about the whole thing: “I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” he said.
Waiters shook his head when asked if he realized he had elbowed Ginobili: “No,” he said. “I’m in the game, man. I don’t really know what really going on.”
The final verdict on the play emerged hours later from the referees’ locker room, when Ken Mauer, the lead referee, acknowledged that there should have been an offensive foul called on Waiters and that the Spurs should have been awarded the ball.
“It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever,” Mauer said.
Noncall notwithstanding, so many other things happened during the final 13.5 seconds alone that seemed worthy of scrutiny or plain wonderment:
■ Ginobili, according to Waiters, stepped out of bounds while defending the inbounds play — a violation that would have warranted a technical foul. Replays showed that Ginobili at least stepped on the line.
■ After stripping the ball off Durant, Danny Green floated a ponderous, parabolic pass ahead to Mills that seemed to give the Thunder more time to get back on defense.
■ As Mills rushed without the ball into the right corner, Ginobili set up the final shot with an audacious no-look pass behind his left ear.
■ Steven Adams of the Thunder, who seemed to alter or deter three different shots on the play, appeared to be held by a fan after contesting Mills’s attempt, and he glared into the stands after angrily freeing himself.
■ Serge Ibaka tugged a fistful of LaMarcus Aldridge’s jersey as they chased the final loose ball.
When it was over, the Spurs mostly declined the opportunity to make excuses.
After scoring 43 points in the first quarter of Game 1, they were weirdly impotent at the start of Game 2. They started the contest shooting 2 for 16 from the field — with a surprisingly high number of those misses coming at the rim. As the early deficit spiraled, Popovich chirped angrily at his players from the sideline.
The Thunder looked re-energized after a lethargic performance in Game 1. Durant (28 points) and Russell Westbrook (29 points, 10 assists) were ruthless. Still, Popovich chided a reporter for wondering afterward whether a variance in effort levels between the teams had been a factor thus far in the series.
“At this level, everybody plays hard,” Popovich said. “It’s not about effort. That’s going to be there for everybody. It’s about mistakes. It’s a game of mistakes.”
As he saw it, his team made many errors. Yet somehow it still put itself in a position to win.
The San Antonio offensive machine kept whirring, and eventually the shots started to fall. Each time the Thunder seemed poised to pull away, the Spurs scraped back.
“I thought we lost the game three times tonight, and we got back in it,” Popovich said. “So I give our guys credit for hanging in there on a night when they weren’t very sharp. Individually, we have to play smarter. I don’t think we played very smart tonight in a lot of situations.”
The play of Aldridge, who scored 38 points in just less than 30 minutes in Game 1, masked many of San Antonio’s shortcomings in Game 2.
He scored 41 points on Monday, making 15 of 21 shots. He established openings with trickery — spins, half-turns and all manner of fakes — or simple athleticism. He goaded defenders into fouls. Defenders — whether Adams, Ibaka or Enes Kanter — showed him little resistance.
With 25.8 seconds left, Aldridge drained a 3-pointer from the top of the arc after catching a 20-foot, no-look pass out of the paint and through traffic from Tony Parker, itself a feat of inexplicably wizardry. About 12 seconds later, Aldridge drew a foul on another 3-point attempt and drained all three free throws to bring the Spurs within one.
That set up the rowdy closing scenes. In one sense, it might have helped the Spurs that Waiters’s shove on Ginobili was ignored. They ultimately developed a good scoring chance with the Thunder players scrambling to get back on defense. They simply failed to convert it.
The teams were scheduled to have Tuesday off. Late Monday night, uneager to dwell on the madness, they were looking ahead.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ginobili said of the hypothetical outcomes in the closing seconds. “It’s over. I’m not going to be able to change it. Nobody’s going to change it. It’s 1-1. We’ve got to go to O.K.C. and try to win a game.”