That was maybe the most thrilling game of the playoffs.
And it is a complete punch to the gut for the Clippers.
The Los Angeles Clippers were the better team for 44 minutes on Tuesday night. With four minutes left in the game, the Clippers were up 13 points, they had gotten huge games out of Blake Griffin (24 points, 17 rebounds total) and Chris Paul (17 points, 14 assists and 4 steals). Kevin Durant had been ice cold.
Then it all came apart for Los Angeles. Meanwhile the Thunder showed the poise of a team that has been to the Finals, had been on the big stage — they made plays.
First Russell Westbrook hit a driving layup. Then Durant hit a pull-up three. Durant hit big some free throws. Reggie Jackson gets a layup off a Durant pass. Durant hit another three (one where Doc Rivers wanted his team to foul before the shot). Durant hits a layup. Westbrook steals the ball from Chris Paul in the backcourt (when Paul seems to shoot it trying to get an extra free throw rather than accept the intentional foul), then Westbrook passes to Jackson who is fouled by Matt Barnes (no call) and the ball goes out off Jackson but the referees say it is off Barnes — the referees missed the original call with no foul on Barnes, then blew the replay where the ball clearly went off Jackson but it was ruled “inconclusive.”
On the ensuing inbounds play and the Thunder down two and 11.3 seconds left, Westbrook unnecessarily went back and took a three — and Chris Paul fouled him on the shot. On the elbow. It was a terrible foul. Westbrook hit all three, the Thunder were ahead. On the final play Paul tried to drive, Serge Ibaka did a good job cutting off the lane and with a double from Jackson Paul lost the ball.
Thunder win, 105-104, and take a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 back in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
The Thunder were elated post game, the Clippers distraught… well, not Doc Rivers. He was flat out angry… no, not angry, livid. He was ripping the referees for the call with 11.3 seconds when the ball went out off Jackson and was still awarded to the Thunder. Rivers said if the Clippers get the ball as they should have the Thunder have to foul and the Clippers could have won the game.
“That is a game defining and possibly a series defining call. And that’s not right,” Rivers said in a press conference that is going to earn him a healthy from the league.
But he is right, the ball went out off Jackson. And the official explanation from Chief referee Tony Brothers after the game was terrible:
“When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City. We got review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from these two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it’s inconclusive we have to go with the call on the floor.”
That’s a terrible call.
That’s not why the Clippers lost — Los Angeles was up 7 with :49 seconds left and handed the game over to the Thunder.
They lost because up two and about to be intentionally fouled near halfcourt by Westbrook, Paul didn’t accept the foul but rather went up into a shooting motion to try to get an extra free throw. Paul got stripped instead by Westbrook. It was also Paul who fouled Russell Westbrook on a three with 6 seconds left — it may have been a light foul, but Paul put himself in a position where the refs could make that call.
“Everything that happened there in the end is on me…” a clearly devastated Paul said in his post-game news conference televised on NBA TV. “You got to keep playing, but this one is bad though.”
To open this game the Thunder seemed to have a hangover from the Clippers dramatic 16-point comeback in Game 4 and Los Angeles raced out to a double-digit lead. The Clippers were controlling the pace, moving the ball and looked good, with Paul leading the way
The Thunder came back early in the second quarter and that is what happened for the rest of the game — the Clippers would make a run, the Thunder would respond.
That’s what happened in the final minutes — the Thunder made plays. Durant nailed threes, he finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook made the big steal late but for most of the game he was the best Thunder player and finished with 38 points.
OKC made the plays late, the Thunder kept their poise late, the Clippers collapsed.
We will see if the Clippers can bounce back from that in Game 5 loss. They were clearly devastated after the game, the Thunder were looking like a team that just won the series.
They may have.