Clippers (6-5, 2-3 road) Thunder (6-5, 3-3 home)
The importance is obvious. The split in Los Angeles was achieved, but we’ll only know how much regret there is in not finishing Game 4 after we see how the Thunder play tonight. The team acts as if they’ve moved on and aren’t worried about the slip, but it’s hard to deny and overlook the situation. Most will be forgiven if they protect home court and get a win tonight. But Game 4 will only increase its fame if the Thunder don’t show up.
At this point in the series, we’ve seen these two teams tangle four times, and have a pretty good idea what’s going on. Game 1, the Clippers were hot, and shot the Thunder out of the game. Games 2 and 3, the Thunder imposed their will, seemingly showing they’re the stronger side. And with Game 4 headed that direction, things turned in the fourth quarter and presented the Clippers with a chance once again.
But again, it’s hard not to shake the fact it feels like the Thunder are better. That may not actually mean anything, because in sports the best team isn’t gifted the win. Still, the Thunder have the better top tier players and appear to be able to present problems for the Clippers. We might see things differently after tonight, though.
This Game 5 is quite different than the previous one, mostly because of the incoming circumstances. Against Memphis, the Thunder had just survived an emotional overtime game where Reggie Jackson saved their butts, and seemed to have momentum coming back home to take a commanding lead. This time, it’s the opposite. The Thunder had the chance to be closing tonight, but blew a lead and now come in feeling some doubt and anger. Will it make a difference this time around?
Five Big Things
1. Good start. The Thunder don’t necessarily need a 29-7 start like they had in Game 4, but something solid would be good. They started Game 5 against Memphis horribly, taking the crowd out early and causing plenty of discomfort throughout. A quick, fast beginning will ease some nerves.
2. Balance. More like Game 3, less like Game 4.
3. Counter the pick-and-roll. The Clippers seemed to find a little something in Game 4, with Chris Paul attacking more aggressively at the rim. There was some hesitation in guarding it for OKC, maybe because of foul trouble. But Serge Ibaka has to protect the rim and the Thunder can’t just sit back and allow Paul to pick them.
4. Poise. Foul trouble, tech trouble, flagrant trouble, all of that — don’t lose your head.
5. Turnovers. The Thunder got sloppy in Game 4, giving away possessions with lazy passing and weak ball-handling. They have to value possession, and take care of the ball. The Clippers punish live ball turnovers and the Thunder were soft on Sunday.
Tip at 8:30 CT. Go Need It.