Let the players decide the game

The OKC Thunder might feel ashamed Thursday.

But as Robin Williams said to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

Yes, it’s hard to blame the players for intentionally fouling Houston center Omer Asik seven times in two minutes Wednesday night, plus one other intentional foul that wasn’t called and two other shooting fouls in the fourth quarter.

The players were following orders: Stop the game because we don’t like how it’s going; don’t compete on the floor because you’re not good enough to win this playoff home game against the No. 8 seed; do not try for steals and blocks and stops; let’s keep our own crowd out of the game; let’s not get out and run and try to come back with the second-best player in the world doing what he does best; let’s not play basketball for a while because the Rockets are better at basketball on this night.

So it’s not their fault. They never had a real chance. They never had a real chance at a thriller of a comeback win. They never had a chance to do the thing they’ve trained their entire lives to do. They didn’t even get 48 minutes to show fans watching in the arena and on TNT and around the world that they could win Game 5 on talent.

How many times will we get to see Kevin Durant try to lead a series-clinching comeback win in the final five minutes of a nationally televised Game 5? Not many, and that rare opportunity Wednesday night was taken from us, and from him. With OKC stopping the clock and letting Houston set up its defense, Durant didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter.

And it’s hard to blame Thunder coach Scott Brooks for trying to win (even if the strategy itself was dumb).

But it’s easy to blame a system that puts the game in the hands of the coaches and referees and the rulebook instead of the players.

The league has an enormous amount of intentional fouling of all kinds. The league continues to say it has the best athletes in the world.

It’s amazing that it would reward fouling at the expense of those athletes.

Obviously, the entire sport and the league’s reputation for excitement are built on the fact those great athletes can do amazing things -- and built on those amazing things happening during live play and not at the free throw line or in a boardroom somewhere with the suits making rules that give coaches more control over the game.

And while physical play is to be expected when bodies compete for space and the ball and baskets, there simply is no reason to reward intentional violence and intentional fouling. There is no reason to encourage coaches to take the game out of the hands of their players because the rulebook gives them another way to “win.”

The NBA is the greatest basketball league in the world, without a doubt. Sooner or later, it will stop rewarding intentional violence and intentional fouls, as other basketball leagues have done.

You often hear, especially in the playoffs, we should let the players decide the game. Amen.