LOS ANGELES – Maybe you could stomach it if Jamal Crawford got hot and swished a batch of rainbow 3-pointers. Maybe you could live with it if Lob City kicked into high gear, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan suddenly dunking like they were a trampoline act. Maybe you shrug it off if the maestro, Chris Paul, went all Globetrotter and took over the game with dribbling feats and circus shots.
But that’s not what happened Sunday in Staples Center. The Thunder lost to the Clippers and squandered total control of the Western Conference semifinals because the Thunder let the Clips run a layup drill. Let the Clippers dominate the fourth quarter by scoring on 18 of 19 possessions down the stretch, a feat possible only against opponents that have quit paying attention.
The Clippers won 101-99, knotting the series 2-2 and sending the Thunder back to OKC with the despondent feeling of knowing it blew this game in the worst possible way.
“They shot the easiest shot in basketball, and they shot it uncontested,” said Reggie Jackson. “Got a bunch of layups. We gotta be better. Gotta be hungry to get stops. I don’t think we got one stop down the stretch.”
Actually, that’s not true. Paul missed a 17-foot jumper, and the Thunder’s Caron Butler rebounded with 4:53 left in the game and OKC up 88-81. The Clippers had scored the previous nine possessions. In wonderful symmetry, the Clippers scored the next nine possessions. And the Thunder lost a game it led 29-7 in the first quarter and 82-66 with 9:02 left.
“Gotta have a better sense of urgency down the stretch,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “We didn’t get no stops. We just gotta be better closing out games. Golden opportunity that we had right in our hands.”
Scotty Brooks said the Clippers “made a bunch of big shots,” but that’s not even close to the truth. The Clippers in those final nine minutes scored 35 points. They took only three shots longer than five feet. Made only one 3-pointer. The Clippers in those nine minutes dunked twice and made six uncontested layups.
Complete meltdown. Total collapse. Brooks seemed powerless to stop anything. He played defensive liability Jackson the entire fourth quarter. Butler played 9:03. Brooks went with an offensive lineup and it blew up on him. In fact, the offense helped create the defensive meltdown. The Thunder committed five turnovers in the quarter; Kevin Durant had three, all of which were turned into fast-break layups.
“We got to get back,” said Russell Westbrook. “Gave up too many layups. They got too many easy baskets, especially when we had the lead.”
It’s not like the Thunder was avalanched by vintage Clippers. Doc Rivers went with a screwball lineup of Paul, Griffin, Crawford, Danny Granger and Darren Collison. A mighty mite quintet that played with its hair on fire. The Thunder did not respond. The Thunder shriveled.
This no longer is a young team. This is a veteran team. This team has been through the playoff rigors. There was no excuse for this.
Durant let Paul get under his skin. Think about it. One of the keys to victory for LA was having a 5-foot-11 guard cover the 6-11 Durant. The Thunder offense stagnated. The Thunder defense wilted. Brooks seemed to stand on the sideline and fiddle. Foreman Scotty finally put defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha back in the game with 2:57 left, but it was too late. The Clipper layup drill was on full assembly line status.
And now a series that would have been all but over has gone from a marathon to a sprint. A three-game series. The Thunder has homecourt advantage. But the Clippers have the mental edge, knowing they won Game 1 in a rout and Game 4 in what should have been a Thunder rout.
If the Thunder loses this series, Game 4 will no longer be hard to stomach. It will be impossible to forget.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.