In consecutive games leading into tonight's meeting with the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the Clippers have battled back from significant fourth quarter deficits to beat quality opponents, including the Thunder themselves four days ago in LA. They almost found the comeback magic again, but came up just a little short this time, falling 112-108. As for the comeback, they did everything right except for one minor detail. They got stops, they made shots and they got to the line - unfortunately, they didn't make their free throws when they got there.
The Clippers missed five free throws in the fourth quarter alone, including three straight in the final two minutes of the game. Considering that they thrice cut the lead to two in the final 30 seconds, it goes without saying that those misses were big.
The comeback was impressive despite coming up short. When Kevin Durant made a crazy runner near the baseline with 3:30 left, the Thunder lead stretched to ten. The Clippers then got four straight stops over the next two minutes, a stretch that featured some stellar defense including a steal by Eric Gordon and a blocked shot by Blake Griffin. LA also scored on each of their possessions - or rather, had scoring chances, but Chris Kaman only managed to make one out of four free throws and as a result the Clippers only managed to cut the lead to five. An unlikely bucket by Serge Ibaka once again seemed to close the door on any comeback, putting the lead at seven with just over a minute left, but a quick Mo Williams three pointer made it interesting again. They got another stop and a quick bucket on a pretty reverse jam by Griffin off a Williams lob, and the lead was down to two. Then they almost got the steal on the subseqent inbounds play, twice knocking the ball out of bounds and also forcing the Thunder to burn their final timeout. When OKC did eventually get the ball to Durant and he was fouled, he made only one of two free throws, leaving the door open for the Clippers, down three with the ball and 19 seconds left. Instead of going for the three, Blake Griffin took it hard to the basket and almost got the chance at the tie with an old-fashioned three point play, but his dunk as he was being fouled would not go in. When he missed the first free throw, what could have been a three point play became a one point play, and the game was essentially over as the Thunder did not miss any more free throws.
Griffin had a big game with 35 points on 15 for 20 shooting. Eight of his makes were dunks, and he actually missed two dunks in the game (though the last one, where he was fouled in the final seconds, did not count as a miss). You can definitely shoot a high percentage when you're dunking the ball. In addition to Griffin, five other Clippers were in double figures, between 10 and 16 points. The most unlikely of those was DeAndre Jordan, who almost single-handedly led a pre-rally early in the fourth when he scored eight straight. The irony of the missed free throws is that the Clipper's center position went 6 for 10 from the line during the fourth quarter, which is about what you'd expect from the 80% Kaman and the 40% Jordan. But it was Kaman going 2 for 6 while Jordan swished four straight. It was the best free throw performance of DeAndre's - never before has he made more than two without a miss in a game.
For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook broke out of his Clipper-induced coma and scored 26 on 10 for 22 shooting. Kevin Durant led them with 29. And Kendrick Perkins was a beast on the boards, with 17 rebounds including nine on the offensive end. (Although, several of those offensive boards were off his own misses, very few actually ended up hurting the Clippers since he was completely unable to score and finished shooting 2 for 11. I'm fairly certain that most of those 11 shots were putback attempts after offense rebounds, and obviously almost none of them were successful.)
For whatever reason, the Clippers seem to be serious about closing the season strong. After appearing to be done for the season a week ago, they've now mounted serious comebacks against playoff teams in three straight games, actually completing the job on the first two before coming up just short tonight. A better plan in Dallas Friday might be, don't build the double digit deficit in the first place. But if they do fall behind, they now have the confidence to climb back in.