KRAVITZ: Blown call (or non-call) leaves the Pacers looking for justice and answers after Game 5 loss

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) passes against Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner (33) in the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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Bob Kravitz

CLEVELAND (WTHR) — Have at it, conspiracy theorists. This is your day to shine. Scream and yell until you’re blue-and-gold in the face about how LeBron James fouled Victor Oladipo on his late-game drive to the basket, then was guilty of goaltending when he blocked the shot after it hit the backboard. Because, well, you're right, absolutely right, and the officials were wrong, and now the Indiana Pacers, 98-95 Game 5 losers on James' miracle three-ball at the buzzer, are hanging on for their post-season lives.

I can hear you from here in Cleveland: The NBA wants LeBron James in the playoffs! The NBA doesn’t want small-market Indiana to knock off The King! It's a vast, right-wing (or is it left-wing?) conspiracy!

I don't agree with conspiracy theories, think they're mental junk food, filled with empty calories.

But the Pacers, who didn't play well but found themselves tied at 95 late in the game, were right to be incensed, and the officials, who try to get it right but sometimes get it wrong, very wrong, missed this one badly. When I first saw the play from a vantage point far behind the basket, it looked like just another magnificent block by James, much like his block on Andre Iguodala in the 2016 Finals, but after seeing the replay, well, there was no question.

It was a goaltend.

It. Was. A. Goaltend.

"That was a (bleeping) goaltend!" yelled Myles Turner as he walked from the shower into the cramped locker room.

The cacophony of dissent and anger echoed off the walls. Several players were in a back room, likely watching the replay, and all I heard was this: "(Bleep)! (Bleep)! (Bleep)!"

They weren't saying bleep, for the record.

Here’s what you should know, however: The play was not reviewable by NBA rules. The only way it could have been reviewed is if the play had been ruled a goaltending. But you can’t review a non-call. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

"…I got a step on him (James) and got grabbed on the way to the rim" – Oladipo laughed wearily – “I tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard and he blocked it,” he said. "The replay, I guess you guys could see it. It was goaltending." He laughed again. "It’s hard to even speak on it. It sucks. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back and tied the game up, that was huge. I mean, give him credit where credit is due. That 3 was big-time. Definitely, that was huge. (But) who's to say they even run that (final) play (if the Pacers have a 2-point lead)? You don't know what happens. So it sucks. It's really unfortunate that they missed that."

When James was asked about the block-not-a-block, I saw one of the Cavaliers’ public relations people make a face like, "How dare you ask the King such a question?" Then James nearly gave the assembled media a coronary when it was, in fact, suggested that it might have been a goaltend.

"I definitely thought it was a goaltend," he said. Then he paused and the room went silent. He waited a second or two, then smiled. "Of course, I didn't think it was a goaltend, man…He (Oladipo) made a heck of a move, got me leaning right, he went left then I used my recovery speed and made a play on the ball."

Naturally, and rightly, most of the conversation tonight and tomorrow will be about the blown goaltending call, but don't let Nate McMillan off the hook for this one, either. He still had a timeout left and still had a foul to give when the Cavs took possession with the game tied and three seconds remaining, and he used neither.

"I'll take that (blame)," McMillan said. "We have a timeout to talk about what we see out there and we have a foul to give and we leave here with both of them. Thaddeus (Young) had five fouls and was covering LeBron…We had two things we could have used in that situation that we didn't use."

Can't happen. Shouldn't happen. Not in a high-stakes playoff game, not against the best player in the world. This is a veteran coach. He made the kind of mistake veteran coaches shouldn't make.

After the game, Young was beating himself up for the way he defended James, saying he should have been closer to him, should have shut off his ability to dribble left, knowing James prefers to go to his left to take his shot. But this is the city whose heart was broken by Michael Jordan's iconic shot over Craig Ehlo in 1989. Now they have LeBron, and he's in the serious business of breaking hearts — especially the Pacers' hearts.

"As a kid, you always have those '3, 2, 1' moments," James said. "…That's what it kind of felt like, like I was a kid all over again. When I'd play basketball at my house with a makeshift hoop and my socks as a basketball…that's what it felt like."

The truth of the matter is, the Pacers probably shouldn't have been in a position to win this game, and it's a small miracle, and a sign of Cleveland's vulnerability, that they forced James to make a forever shot to win Game 5. Victor Oladipo had his third straight miserable shooting game, finishing with 12 points on 2-of-15 shooting. Darren Collison was completely ineffectual, as he's been most of this series, finishing with four points on 1-of-5 shooting. When your starting backcourt combines for 16 points on 3-of-20 shooting, you probably have no right to be in a position to win a road game, especially against James. If it weren't for the Pacers' enormously productive bench, which out-scored Cleveland’s bench 44-18, this could have ended earlier than it did.

So it will be interesting Friday late afternoon when the NBA releases its 2-minute report, where it reviews every official’s call in the last two minutes of a game. I can tell you what it's going to say: The official blew it. Blew it by failing to call a foul on the Oladipo drive, blew it by failing to call a goaltend on The King.

Have at it, conspiracy theorists.

But I'm telling you one more thing, and I believe this fervently: The Pacers will be back in Cleveland for a Game 7 Sunday. Count on it.

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