This series is being played at an NBA Finals-level. We’re still a few weeks away from the Finals, but the Clippers and Thunder are both clearly Finals-Worthy. Either team could certainly beat the Miami Heat or the schizophrenic Indiana Pacers. It may well be the San Antonio Spurs who represent the Western Conference, but don’t think these two teams aren’t worthy. They are worthy, and they are giving NBA fans quite a series.
Chris Paul did not have a terrible Game 5. Chris Paul had a horrible, awful, regrettable 48th minute of Game 5, which is very different than having a terrible Game 5. There will always be a contingent of sports fans who derive pleasure from certain star athletes “choking.” Aside from people who really have something against Chris Paul all the time (he can be a jerk on the court, but from all indications, he’s a solid person off the court), or Oklahoma City fans, I’m not sure why the narrative would be about Chris Paul in the final minute instead of the way the Clippers, as a team, let it slip away, or how the Thunder, as a team, simply stole Game 5. Down 101-88 after another of Jamal Crawford’s high-arcing beautiful 25-fo0t-jumpers, the Thunder saved their season in the final four minutes.
One game after the Clippers “stole” Game 4 with a 38-24 4th Quarter performance to even up the series, the Thunder catapulted their anxious fans, who were sweating with every Jamal Crawford three-point attempt for most of the final quarter of Game 5, into glorious ecstasy with an insane final three minutes. Kevin Durant emerged from his disastrous first 45-game minutes, and knocked down two 25-footers. Reggie Jackson made a few clutch hustle plays. Serge Ibaka continued to deny Blake Griffin on the block, Jamal Crawford couldn’t finish his wide-open off-balance lay-up, and Russell Westbrook pressured the normally impenetrable Chris Paul into coughing up the ball and Paul’s sneaky elbow-tap was rightfully whistled for a foul. Russell Westbrook saved Kevin Durant’s behind. Let’s be clear. Kevin Durant was a shadow of himself for nearly all of Game 5. Westbrook was the lifeboat that kept the Thunder from sinking behind the Clippers up-tempo, well-balanced offense. Everything was dynamic and open and flowing for the Clippers until crunch time. Isn’t it true that up-tempo offenses need help in crunch time?
Jamal Crawford can get his own shot off. Why? His wingspan and his insane crossover. The Clippers offense is propelled by CP3 and Blake Griffin, but the threes of Redick and Crawford are what keeps them going when times are toughest. Paul is too tiny to get his shot off in crunch time, though he makes it happen more often than most 6-footers, with his handle. But it was Jamal Crawford who led the Clippers to that 13-point lead, and it was a Crawford driving lay-up that rimmed out when Doc Rivers needed him most.
Westbrook carried Durant and company for the first three-and-a-half quarters, keeping them in the Clippers rear-view mirror despite the three-point barrage of Redick and Crawford. Westbrook penetrated at will, especially when center DeAndre Jordan went out with foul trouble. The Clippers were vulnerable and Westbrook attacked relentlessly.
Chris Paul has been spectacular this entire series. He had a brutal final minute of Game 5. That’s all that was.
Doc Rivers was about to have a heart attack because of that out-of-bounds call. On the one hand, yes, it was clearly off of OKC. On the other hand, Barnes clearly fouled the Thunder player on the wrist. I know you can’t review the non-foul call, but it made sense to give OKC the ball after they saw the foul clearly during the review process. And yes, Chris Paul fouled Westbrook on the three-pointer. It’s a shame. I’m not sure Westbrook hits that shot with his shaky outside shooting. Instead, the early elbow tap was noticed and the whistle blew. The free-throws went in. And the Clippers were handed one of the more brutal losses in recent playoff history.
Game 6 will be here Thursday.