HOUSTON — Trailing by two with the game clock ticking inside its final three seconds on Monday night, Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson drove the lane and ran into 7-foot, 255-pound Houston center Omer Asik, who loomed even larger with both arms extended high as he jumped in front of Jackson.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Jackson took the brunt of the collision and his running 5-foot attempt barely drew iron off the left side of the rim.
The ball fell into the waiting hands of Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka who hurried the put-back to beat the buzzer.
Ibaka short-armed the attempt, which never cleared the front of the rim.
Ibaka immediately fell to the floor flat on his back, both hands covering his face as a sellout crowd of 18,081 roared at the Toyota Center.
Jackson also sat on the floor, both arms raised to the side asking why there was no foul call.
The frenzied finish resulted in a 105-103 loss for the Thunder, which failed in its quest to sweep this best-of-7 opening-round playoff series.
Leading 3-1, OKC will try to close out the series in Game 5 at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The best news arrived roughly 90 minutes later when the Thunder boarded its charter and returned home after four draining days away from home.
The team left OKC on Friday afternoon just hours after learning three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would be out indefinitely with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
The following morning came news that Westbrook would be lost for the entire postseason after having surgery in Vail, Colo.
Later that night was Game 3, the first contest in Thunder history with no Westbrook on the court.
OKC jumped out to a 26-point lead and managed to hang on for a 104-101 victory.
A collective sigh of relief was visible from Thunder players, even from veteran power forward Nick Collison, who admitted it had been an emotional 48 hours.
“All these games are really intense,” Collison said. “There's a lot riding on them, so they're all emotional. I think the good thing is we get a day off between all these games to watch the film, then get yourself back up for the next game.”
Life without Westbrook is a reality the Thunder must learn to accept.
“It was a different feeling, for sure,” Collison admitted. “I think for us, we have to be able to get over that. Russ is not going to be with us in the playoffs. It can't always be this emotional ‘Win one for Russell' for us because it's too much an emotional roller coaster.
“I think for us we have to focus on what we're doing on the court, getting ready to play and take a business-like approach to these games. Still have the emotion you need for a playoff game, but really focus on what we need to do on the floor.”
Though you couldn't tell it by his on-court demeanor, the last four days must have been especially draining for Jackson. The first two starts of his NBA career were Game 3 and Game 4.
The burden understandably might have weighed heavily on Jackson, who took more shots than Kevin Durant on Monday, finishing 7 for 18 from the field and 2 for 7 from 3-point range for 18 points in 35:45 of playing time.
Mixed in were four rebounds, three assists, two steals, two turnovers and five fouls — all in an attempt fill in for the team's emotional dynamo who had never missed a game in his career (439 games) before Saturday.
Jackson hit a wall in the fourth quarter in Game 4, literally and figuratively, shooting just 2 for 8 from the floor in the final period and colliding with the mammoth Asik in one last hurrah that came up short.