That’s it. That’s all I think I have to say.
It’s been about an hour and a half since the final horn sounded on Game 5, and I’m still sitting here, trying to figure out a way to coherently communicate what I just saw.
Here’s what I’ve got: The Thunder won. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. But they won.
There are multiple angles that you could go with, depending on which side of the aisle you fall on. On one hand, the Thunder somehow came back from 13 down with four minutes left, and seven with 47 seconds left to miraculously steal Game 5 with a flurry of absurd plays made entirely out of raw desperation. On the other hand, the Clippers feel awfully wronged by what happened in the final 11.3 seconds, starting with a replay review that controversially awarded OKC the ball which led to Chris Paul controversially being called for a foul on a Russell Westbrook 3 which led to the Thunder controversially winning Game 5 and taking a 3-2 series lead.
“We were down 13 with [four] minutes to go and everybody was getting up and walking out. We were down seven with 47 seconds to go, but we ain’t going to talk about just the last play,” Durant said, almost cutting off a reporter’s question about the review. “How about the six plays we made before those fouls, that we made to put us in position? So a lot of people aren’t going to talk about that, they’re going to just talk about what happened at the end. I think we fought so hard, we went through so much adversity to come out on top, it’s kind of a shame people are going to try and take that from us because of the last few calls, but sometimes that’s how the game goes.”
Those last four minutes: Westbrook made another one of his patented crazy man driving layups. Jamal Crawford missed a deep 3, and in transition, sitting on the worst postseason game of his life, Durant elevated and splashed from 3, his first shot attempt of the quarter. Timeout Clippers, 101-93 with 3:23 left. A missed Chris Paul jumper led to Westbrook wildly attempted to draw a foul on a layup, the Thunder came up with another stop, and Durant got to the line, making both free throws — 101-95, 2:31 left. DeAndre Jordan picked up his sixth foul on an illegal screen, the Thunder squandered a big series of possessions with a missed Durant jumper, a missed Durant 3-pointer and a missed Westbrook layup. The Thunder got another stop on a deep Crawford 3, and Jackson finished a scrambled layup — 101-97, 1:24 left.
Blake Griffin drew a foul, making the first but missing the second. Glen Davis pulled in the rebound, the Clippers ran clock, and Chris Paul sunk was felt to pop the Thunder’s balloon, a 17-foot fadeaway with 47 seconds left — 104-97, timeout Thunder.
Durant drilled another 3 to put OKC back on life support and Crawford missed a good look at a scooped runner with 22 seconds left. Durant galloped down the floor to finish a layup — 104-102, 17 seconds left.
And that’s when it got weird.
Westbrook, seemingly going for the steal first, but intent to foul, knocked the ball from Paul’s hands. It finally fell to Jackson, who had a 3-on-1, but went himself to the rim. Matt Barnes got his hand on Jackson’s wrist, the ball went out of bounds and the officials signaled for a replay. The reviews showed the ball hitting off Jackson’s off hand, but the officials kept the ball with OKC — 104-102, 11.3 seconds left. The Thunder’s play was horrific, and Westbrook lined up from deep with seven seconds left. Paul got a fingernail on his elbow, the shot airballed, and the whistle was blown.
Westbrook walked to the line with a chance to somehow give the Thunder the lead. Durant, unable to watch, planted himself on his butt in the opposite corner. All three dropped — 105-104, 6.4 seconds left. The Clippers set up Paul on a high screen, but as he gathered to shoot he fumbled the ball. It landed in Serge Ibaka’s hands, the clock ran out and the Thunder won the damn game.
“I’ve never seen a game like this,” Durant said. “But that just shows that we keep going. That you can’t keep us down. That we’re going to fight until the end. No matter what happens, we’re going to lay it all out there.”
Eight points in 60 seconds. A comeback you won’t ever forget, a moment etched in time alongside the brief, but already robust Thunder playoff history book. It was a season headed to the brink, a team that had been beaten for 44 minutes headed for a crippling loss. The Clippers were the better team throughout Game 5, frustrating any offensive flow the Thunder had, taking away Durant’s comfort in scoring and finding easier shots consistently in their halfcourt. It was a disaster, a meltdown, a crushing blow to follow up the nightmare that happened in Game 4.
But this stupid team found a way.
Westbrook is to be thanked for most of it, with his bazooka assaults on the rim in the second half. He had 38 on 11-23 shooting, and placed the Thunder firmly on his back for most of the game. Without his heroics, the Thunder don’t ever have their chance.
“Russell carried us the whole game and definitely put me in position to hit those shots,” Durant said.
It almost feels as if some kind of weird universal balance was restored, like this was penance for the humiliating collapse in Game 4. The final 20 seconds will remain the focus of this game, but after Crawford canned a corner 3 to put the Clippers up 13, they morphed into the Thunder, stalling out their offense and taking isolating contested long jumpers. As both Doc Rivers and Chris Paul noted time and again, the replay call should’ve never been a factor because the Clippers should’ve closed the game out far earlier. They left the door gaping for Durant and Westbrook to come and pull the rug from under their feet.
And despite comically bad offensive execution that resulted in painful 20-second isos with contested flings, the Thunder survived. Scott Brooks was about to have his head put back on a pike outside the arena, but his team made the plays. It’s the Thunder’s pure, ridiculous, unfiltered, outrageous talent triumphing over everything else. That’s really their identity. They win in spite of themselves, both with how they’re coached and how they play. They just so talented and play so effing hard that they’re able to trump the disaster that is themselves. It’s an amazing thing.
With the way things have gone, it sort of feels like this is a charmed postseason for the Thunder, doesn’t it? The four-point plays, Jackson Game 4, the Westbrook steal on Conley, Z-Bo suspension, the play of Kendrick Perkins and now this. Maybe it’s all too good to be true and when the luck runs out, the Thunder are going to be left with nothing. But right now, the Thunder are catching the breaks, and making the plays.
It’s not over, though. It might feel like it, but the Clippers can regroup. With how angry Doc Rivers was postgame, and how distraught Chris Paul was, it’s hard to see them getting their minds right in 48 hours. But who knows, they might channel it just right and play an inspired game.
But the Thunder are at least guaranteed a Game 7 in their building, having somehow survived disaster tonight. I don’t know how, or why, but that scoreboard still says 105-104. When Serge Ibaka grabbed the loose ball spilled by Paul, and the clock ticked out leading to a burst of noise like I stuck my head inside an F-16 engine, I couldn’t process it. The game didn’t really seem over. It couldn’t be. There had to be more, because the Thunder surely didn’t just win.
They did, though. The Thunder won.
- Here’s the explanation from Tony Brothers: “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.”
- Doc Rivers was angry. “It was our ball. Everybody knows it was our ball. I think the bottom line was they thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let’s take away replay. Let’s take away the replay system. Because that’s our ball and we win the game. And we got robbed because of that call. It was clear. Everybody in the arena saw it and that’s why everybody was so shocked when they said Oklahoma City. That was our ball. Whether it was a foul or not — it was — but they didn’t call it … We made our own mistakes, we turned the ball over, we fouled the 3-point shooter, we did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves. But at the end of the day, we have a replay system that you’re supposed to look at, and I don’t want to hear about how they didn’t have that replay, that’s a bunch of crap. That’s what I heard, that’s a bunch of crap and you all know it and we did our own stuff, we should have never lost that game. We stopped playing with three minutes left, we milked the clock, we turned the ball over, we come out of a timeout and we’re supposed to foul Durant before he took the 3. So we made a comedy of errors, having said that we still have the right to win the game if the ball says it’s ours and that didn’t happen. That’s too bad, too bad for us. All right, we have two more games to play, but that could be a series-defining call, and that’s not right.”
- One quick thing: The call was made with 11.3 seconds left, and the Thunder down two. It’s not like the game was over at that moment. The Clippers still had to inbound, and make free throws. Just sayin’.
- Also, I realize the call was wrong — at least it appears so — but isn’t it a push considering the foul was missed on the floor. I agree with Rivers entirely that replay is worthless if it doesn’t get the call correct, but at the same time, wasn’t this the universe balancing again?
- Rivers: “We helped lose the game, and let’s look at us first. We made a lot of mistakes. We created the situation, we put them in this situation by the turnovers and the bad fouls, the non-fouls, and we did a lot ourselves to not win the game.”
- There’s a rule being passed all around tonight about the player’s hand being part of the ball and how that impacts who gets it. That’s great, and may inadvertently suggest the call was correct in the grand scheme. But that’s not the explanation the officials gave the Clippers, nor is it the one they released. So while they may accidentally have been right, it wasn’t for the reason they thought.
- Scott Brooks: “One thing I know, Reggie did get fouled.” Then he went on to say he never got a good look to see who it was actually off of. I found that embarrassing. Why not just walk in, wipe your forehead and say “Woo, got lucky there.” Say that Jackson got fouled, and then say it was off him, but the foul made the call correct. Why lie about it?
- Paul was absolutely shredded after the game. “It’s me. Everything that happened there at the end is on me.”
- No idea if Paul fouled Westbrook. But the way he missed the 3 so badly would suggest he got clipped on the elbow.
- Westbrook asked if he was fouled on it: “Yes.”
- Paul on if he fouled Westbrook: “I didn’t feel like I did, but it doesn’t matter. You know we lost and it’s on me. We had a chance to win and the last play, we didn’t get a shot off and that’s just dumb. I’m supposed to be the leader of the team.”
- So, some of the other stuff…
- Hey, shouts out to Westbrook for making all three free throws. The calls were big and everything around it, but Westbrook had to make those free throws, and he did.
- Durant finished with 27 on 6-22 shooting. He was 3-17 late in the fourth, but scored 10 points in the final three minutes on 3-5 shooting. The focus of this game is going to be around the calls and such, but Durant stepped up precisely as an MVP should to save his team.
- Thing I had typed as my lede with 47 seconds left: “OK, so now you can be really mad about Game 4.” Backspacing is fun.
- I asked an usher what he was thinking when fans were hitting the exits with 47 seconds left and he said a few were saying “See you next year.”
- It wasn’t just the late calls the Clippers have to feel shorted on. The Thunder played a miserable first half, but were rescued by 25 trips to the free throw line. They ended up with 36 free throws — making 32 — to the Clippers’ 20. The Clippers were called for 28 fouls to OKC’s 20. Maybe the Thunder were the aggressors, but if things were reversed, you’d be some kind of mad and you know it.
- One thing I can’t stand: The rigged enthusiasts. It’s the dumbest thing about the NBA. Were the officials good? Hell no. But the league did not intentionally set up the outcome of this game. First, they’d be risking the integrity of the entire history of the sport on one playoff game. Second, what does the league care? Wouldn’t it prefer to have big market Los Angeles moving on with its inspiring story rather than smalltown OKC? If you’re a person that ever utters a word about the NBA being fixed, go stick your head in some boiling water and shut up forever.
- Ibaka was clearly trying to be aggressive with his jumper, but it just resulted in him rushing it badly. He hit just one jumper and went 4-8 from the field for only eight points.
- Awesome minutes from Steven Adams again. His activity on both ends was fantastic and he was impactful on the offensive end catching and finishing. I keep saying it, but remember: He’s just a 20-year-old rookie. This guy is going to be really good.
- One critique, though: Adams is a little bad at forgetting to put a body on the shooter. After the shot, he stands and watches way too much. Griffin beat him a few times getting his own miss because Adams didn’t put a body on him.
- Blatant mistake: Brooks subbed Durant back in with about eight minutes left, leaving Butler on the floor and taking outJackson. It created a bad mismatch for OKC and removed one of the more dynamic playmakers. After a minute and a half, Brooks realized it, and got Jackson back in. Still, really obvious error.
- It got covered up by a win, but the Thunder’s offense was just stupidly bad in the second half. No movement, no spacing, no plan. It was 20 seconds of dribbling after the first half-ass action got shut down and then a long chuck. I asked Scott Brooks about it postgame and his explanation was awful. “We missed some shots,” he said almost as a reflex, I think. “I thought it bogged down for about two minutes. And that’s not good. It shouldn’t bog down at all and we talked about that. We went over a lot of things that has to happen for that not to happen. We have to continue to play with that offensive energy, that offensive execution. If you don’t make shots that pep in your step isn’t there, for all of us. We had a lot of good looks throughout the game.”
- So basically, Brooks answered my question by just reinforcing the things I asked about. (My question was “You talk all the time about ball movement and spacing being principles of your offense, but there was none in the fourth quarter. Why?”) So he just said they talked about that stuff. Those are the same issues we’ve all hammered on nonstop for like five years and I’m thinking having a little conversation about them isn’t going to magically cure it.
- Unofficially, Caron Butler is shooting negative 400 percent any time he pump fakes, takes a dribble in and shoots.
- The foul spared him, because man, that was a HORRIBLE shot by Westbrook with six seconds left. Initially, it looked to be a decent play drawn up too, with Westbrook catching it near the bucket, but then he backed it out to chunk it.
- Pretty sure the Thunder PA guy introduced Perk as “Number 35, Kevinnndrick Perkins.”
- Game 1: Half cheers, half boos for Blake Griffin. Game 5: Full, loud boos. If there’s a Game 7, someone’s gonna run on the floor and form tackle him.
- I always get a weird, uncomfortable feeling after games like these. I’ve seen a lot of amazing games, because I write about an amazing team with amazing players, and every time there’s one of these nights, I feel so unworthy to write about it. It’s like I’m trying to record some moment in history, and nothing I can say or write will come close to doing it justice. This game was incredible. If you want to really recap it, just set your DVR to “never erase” and watch it over and over again.
Next up: Game 6 on Thursday in LA