Much has already been made of the couple questionable calls made by the referees in Oklahoma City’s (OKC) favor late in its Game Five victory, but the Los Angeles Clippers have only themselves to blame for dropping this game to the Thunder. They had the game firmly in their grasps, up 101-88 with just over four minutes left, but did not show the grit and poise that OKC had to wrap up a pivotal battle in the series. The Thunder also overcame a daunting seven-point deficit with 50 seconds left thanks to some significant boneheaded plays by Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul, and ended up stealing this one 105-104. The series now heads back to L.A. for Game Six where the Clippers will be fighting for their playoff lives.
Instead of going on the road for a must-win game, the Thunder have the ability to take solace in the fact that they have lived to fight another day. Even if they falter at Staples Center, they will have another shot to advance on their home floor in Game Seven. In this contest, the tides turned a bit with Russell Westbrook doing the heavy lifting on an off-night from Kevin Durant, who missed 14 of his first 17 shot attempts. Westbrook also sealed the game with three free throws to give OKC a one-point advantage after getting fouled by Paul with 6.4 seconds left.
Coming out of a timeout, Durant hit a well-contested three to cut the lead to four with 43 seconds left. After a missed layup on the other end, Durant streaked out for a quick layup to cut it to two. Then, Chris Paul happened. Paul took the subsequent inbounds pass and dribbled up the court frantically before charging into Westbrook and throwing the ball to nobody in particular around half-court. The Thunder scooped it up and rushed towards the other end where controversy ensued.
Reggie Jackson went up for a layup where Matt Barnes appeared to have knocked the ball loose, but replays showed that was not the case. Regardless, the referees awarded the ball to OKC where Westbrook was then fouled on the three-pointer by Paul. He converted all three to take the lead, and Paul then proceeded to dribble frantically into the paint once again and turned the ball over.
The play with Jackson has been heavily disputed, and although replays do indicate the refs may have gotten it wrong, the Clippers have no one to blame but themselves for this loss. They scored three points in the last 4:13 of the game, and just 18 points total in the fourth quarter. On a night where Durant has such a poor shooting performance, it is inexcusable to fall short like this.
Doc Rivers and others may have called for the referees’ heads following the loss, but Oklahoma City took this one right from the Clippers’ hands. The Thunder got little to no contribution outside of Westbrook, which is usually a recipe for disaster. This will be an extremely difficult loss to rebound from, but the Clippers have been battle tested and have already overcome a Game Seven in the first round as well as the Donald Sterling debacle. Game Five reaffirmed that this series is truly the only second round matchup that has provided a spark thus far, and if the play holds up, Game Six should be just as captivating.
Commentary by Justin Hussong