By Randy Renner
Just about everything that could go wrong for the Thunder had gone wrong for the first 44 or so minutes in Tuesday night's Game 5 against the LA Clippers.
The Clips were bombing 3-balls from all over the place, the Thunder were just bombing. The defense was having lapses, the offense looked like it was stuck in mud, Kevin Durant didn't look anything like the NBA's MVP, Serge Ibaka was ineffective because of foul trouble again and...well you get the idea.
The Thunder were down by 13 with four minutes left to play. This was after they'd managed to cut a game long Clipper lead down to just a basket a few minutes earlier.
So even the Thunder faithful, who are more faithful than most NBA fans, could see the writing on the Chesapeake Energy Arena walls. The Thunder were going to lose Game 5, so a few of them headed for the exits.
By the time the clock ticked down under a minute the Thunder had fought back to get the game to just seven, but only 45 seconds were left and a few more folks got up to leave.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to a desperation game Thursday in Los Angeles.
The Clippers, who'd been shaky coming down the stretch (R-word anyone?) yes they, like the Thunder on Sunday, relaxed a tad too early and then completely collapsed in the closing seconds.
The Thunder went on a 17-3 run to close the game, including an 8-0 spurt in those final 45 seconds to grab an improbable 105-104 win on Tuesday night.
The Thunder now head to LA for Game 6, which will indeed be a desperation game but it will be the Clippers who are desperate, not the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook refused to allow his team to give in and lose to the Clippers. Yes we saw some "bad Russ" Tuesday night but we saw a lot more of the "good Russ" and it was Westbrook who led all scorers with 38 points and it was Westbrook who hit three straight pressure-packed free throws to give the Thunder a one point lead with just half a dozen ticks left on the clock.
Russ had been fouled on that 3-point attempt by Chris Paul and then Paul turned the ball over on the Clippers last possession. He had given the ball back to the Thunder only four times in the entire series coming into last night's game and last night he committed five turnovers, two of them coming in the final :13.9 seconds.
Paul took the burden of the blame.
“Everything happened there at the end is on me. That turnover assuming they’re going to foul is the dumbest play probably I’ve ever made. Then to put it in the official’s hands to call a foul on the 3, it’s just bad basketball…Last play I don’t even get a shot up and that’s just dumb. I'm supposed to be the leader of the team, that can’t happen.”
But Clipper head coach Doc Rivers pointed his finger (middle one by the way) at lead official Tony Brothers and his crew for blowing an out-of-bounds call that gave the ball to the Thunder. Reggie Jackson appeared to lose the ball out of bounds after appearing to have been fouled. The officials didn't call the foul but gave the ball to OKC then went to replay.
After seeing a couple of angles that weren't conclusive either way, the original call stood, Thunder ball.
"We got robbed," Rivers shouted in the post game interview room, pounding his fist on the podium. "It was our ball, everybody knows that it was our ball. I think the bottom line 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. We win the game and we got robbed because of that play!"
Brothers issued a statement after game about the call.
"We saw two replays," Brothers said. "The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but a different view. And from those two replays, it was inconclusive as to whom the ball went out of bounds off of. When it's inconclusive, we have to go with the call that's on the floor."
Rivers continued to harpoon the officials in his post game rant, while also admitting his team wasn't an innocent victim.
"There were a lot of errors, most of em by us. The officials made a horrendous call but we put ourselves in that position with our play."
The official's ruling on that one play is getting the most attention, especially nationwide. But let's not forget the Thunder kept fighting right up to the end.
After admitting they relaxed and as Westbrook put it "chilled" on defense Sunday while letting Game 4 slip away into the loss column, the Thunder and especially Westbrook refused to concede the fight on Tuesday.
“He’s fierce, and he’s fearless,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of his point guard. “And he’s a winner. That’s who he is. The guy competes for his team every single night.”
Durant struggled with his shot all night and then caught fire when his team needed him the most, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes.
So while Coach Rivers huffs and puffs about the officials it was LA's shoddy play and the Thunder taking advantage of every opportunity that blew the Clippers house down.