One epic collapse deserves another.
On Sunday, it was the Thunder blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead and squandering an opportunity to seize a commanding series lead.
Two nights later, it was the Los Angeles Clippers who threw away a chance at victory with laughable late-game execution.
When they did, the Thunder survived a wild and crazy Game 5 and took a 3-2 series lead following a 105-104 win in a game Oklahoma City never had any business being in down the stretch.
Los Angeles held a 13-point lead inside the final four minutes but watched the Thunder close the game on an improbable 17-3 run.
The Thunder trailed by as many as 15 points and never led by more than two all night.
“This was one of the most amazing games that you could possibly be a part of,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “An amazing 18,000-plus fans and our 15 guys locked in. We found a way to just get it done. We talked about that before the game. We just got to get it done. Whatever it takes, just get it done. And we did that tonight.”
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with a game-high 38 points. He made three game-deciding free throws after being fouled by Clippers guard Chris Paul while shooting a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Paul then lost the ball on the final possession while probing the lane looking for a potential game-winner.
It was the second of two turnovers for Paul in the final 15 seconds. Westbrook produced the previous giveaway, which eventually led to his game-winning free throws.
“This is probably the toughest thing I’ve ever been through basketball-wise,” Paul said. “Everything that happened there at the end is on me. The turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming they were going to foul, was the dumbest play I probably ever made. And then to even put it in the official’s hand to call a foul on a 3, it’s just bad basketball.”
The Clippers got a taste of what the Thunder experienced in Game 4, when it led by as many as 22 points and held a 16-point lead with a little more than 91/2 minutes remaining.
“We got to keep playing,” Paul said. “This one was bad, though. To work that hard and have the game and to give it away; I kind of pride myself on taking care of the ball and managing games toward the end. None of the guys on the team could have did anything about it. It was just me.”
Oklahoma City can now close out the series Thursday in Game 6 in Los Angeles. The Thunder can only hope Tuesday’s miraculous finish can provide a spark that spurs the team to avoid another forgettable fourth quarter.
“When you get a win like this, it kind of brings everybody closer,” said Westbrook. “It kind of lets you know you can’t mess around.”
The Thunder was 50 seconds from facing an elimination game Thursday.
Paul made a fadeaway jumper to put the Clippers ahead, 104-97, with 49.2 seconds remaining. It was a shot that surprisingly sent fans inside Chesapeake Energy Arena heading for the exits.
But Kevin Durant, who struggled with his shot all game, buried a 3-pointer off a feed from Westbrook to trim the deficit to four. Jamal Crawford missed a layup, and Westbrook rebounded the ball and got it to Durant who converted a fast break layup that pulled the Thunder within 104-102 with 17.8 seconds remaining.
Westbrook’s final shot was set up by a controversial ruling by the officials. Reggie Jackson drove to the basket for a layup following Westbrook’s steal on Paul but lost the ball out of bounds when Clippers forward Matt Barnes poked his hand in and stripped it away. The ball was last touched by Jackson but the officials allowed the Thunder to retain possession and Westbrook to get one final shot that ultimately could be what ends a tumultuous Clippers season.
“I did see it. I saw four or five replays,” Brooks said. “One of the things I know, Reggie did get fouled. The ball, I couldn’t tell who the ball was hit off of. One of the things they have with replay system with referees if it’s non-conclusive they have to go with what they call. I couldn’t tell on my replays. Maybe they had different replays than we had. But on the four or five that I looked at, I could not tell who hit the ball out.”
NBA rules state, “If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the hand causing the ball to go out of bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession.”
“(Referee) Tony Brothers looked at me and said, “The replay that they showed us had it off y’all,’” Paul said. “I don’t know. I guess you assume that they see the same ones that everybody in the arena sees. That don’t matter. We shouldn’t have been in that situation.”