Disney plot twist in NBA bubble: Chris Paul's missed late free throw denies OKC Thunder win
Chris Paul stepped to the free-throw line with three seconds left and a chance to put the Thunder ahead, perhaps for good. The NBA’s leader in clutch scoring was about to add two easy points to his total after drawing a foul against Nuggets forward Paul Millsap.
But in a Disney plot twist, the veteran point guard missed. Paul’s expression remained stoic after the first foul shot rimmed out, but Michael Porter Jr. and the Nuggets bench couldn’t help but grin at their new life.
The missed free throw led to overtime, when the Thunder managed just four points in a 121-113 loss to the Nuggets on Monday afternoon.
Oklahoma City was without sixth man Dennis Schroder, who left the bubble for the birth of his second child, and Terrance Ferguson (leg contusion), but the Nuggets were down three starters in Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gary Harris.
“Obviously we missed those guys,” Paul said, “but we still had an opportunity to win the game. If I make that free throw with 2.9 seconds left I think we win the game.”
It was only fitting that free throws would decide a game defined by fouls. The Thunder committed 32 fouls and the Nuggets were right behind at 29.
Thunder center Steven Adams picked up two fouls in the first five minutes, and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had five fouls before the fourth quarter began.
The Nuggets shot 30-of-39 from the free-throw line. Denver center Nikola Jokic was 10-of-11. Porter Jr., a breakout rookie forward, shot 9-of-9 from the foul line en route to a career-high 37 points.
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“Anytime a team takes 39 free throws it’s going to be awfully difficult to overcome that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We got to the free throw line some ourselves, but we certainly fouled them a lot late and it probably, for both teams, broke the tempo and the pace of the game.”
The Thunder led by seven points with 3:38 to go despite committing 15 turnovers in the game — five of which were uncharastically attributed to Paul, who shouldered the blame in his postgame press conference.
But the lead slipped as the Thunder scored just six points in the final four minutes. Like Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari each missed a free throw in the final two minutes.
Gilgeous-Alexander is an 80% free throw shooter. Gallinari and Paul are right at 90%.
“You want those guys at the free-throw line,” Donovan said. “That happens sometimes. We had a chance to make a few. We didn’t. I’m not really worried about those guys.”
Gallinari shrugged when asked if conditioning was to blame for the late-game offensive struggles and missed free throws.
“Maybe, I don’t know,” Gallinari said. “Like everybody else, we’re trying to get back to the same rhythm. That’s something not easy to do right away. It’s going to take some time, but I’m sure we’ll get to that point.”