NBA Playoffs Round 2 Clippers-Thunder Game 5 preview: Best of three

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We're all even at two games apiece, making this a best of three. Two of the three are in Oklahoma City, beginning tonight. The Clippers won Game 1 on the road -- can they do it again?

2014 NBA Playoffs
First Round
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vs

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57-25

59-23
Game 5 - May 13th, 2014, 6:30 PM
Chesapeake Energy Arena
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
The series is tied 2-2
Game 1 - Mon May 5 in Oklahoma City, Clippers 122-Thunder 105
Game 2 - Wed May 7 in Oklahoma City, Thunder 112-Clippers 101
Game 3 - Fri May 9 in Los Angeles, Thunder 118, Clippers 112
Game 4 - Sun May 11 in Los Angeles, Clippers 101-Thunder 99
Game 5 - Tue May 13, 6:30 PM, TNT, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena
Game 6 - Thu May 15, Time TBD, ESPN, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 7 * Sun May 18, Time TBD, TNT, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
21-9 East 23-7
36-16 West 36-16
34-7 Home 34-7
23-18 Road 25-16
25-18 .500+ 27-16
32-7 .500- 32-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
J.J. Redick SG Thabo Sefolosha
Matt Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves
Darren Collison PG Derek Fisher
Jamal Crawford SG Reggie Jackson
Jared Dudley SF Caron Butler
Danny Granger PF Nick Collison
Glen Davis C Steven Adams
Advanced Stats 2013-2014 Regular Season
98.39 (7th of 30) Pace 98.53 (6th of 30)
109.4 (1st of 30) ORtg 108.1 (7th of 30)
102.1 (7th of 30) DRtg 101.0 (5th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Hedo Turkoglu (back) out
None

The Back Story (The teams split the season series 2-2):

Date Venue Final

11/13/13 Los Angeles Clippers 111, Thunder 103 Recap Box
11/21/13 Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Clippers 91 Recap Box
02/23/14 Oklahoma City Clippers 125, Thunder 117 Recap Box
04/09/14 Los Angeles Thunder 107, Clippers 101 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

We have an entirely new series on our hands, and it almost wasn't the case. Deep into Game 4, the Clippers situation looked pretty hopeless and it seemed inevitable that the Thunder would take a 3-1 lead in the series with the third straight win. But the Clippers haven't lost three in a row in the Doc Rivers era, and apparently they didn't want to start now. They mounted an improbable comeback from 16 points down in the final nine minutes, scoring on 17 of 18 possessions down the stretch to secure perhaps the biggest victory in franchise history. Now we're in a best of three series, with two of the three games on the road in Oklahoma City. The question now is, will the Clippers' amazing Game 4 win matter beyond the additional home game that it ensures. For the Game 4 win to really matter, the Clippers need to win the series, not just prolong it. If either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook EVER has a bad (or even an average) game it will increase the Clippers chances greatly; actually, I suppose you could say that the Clippers should be happy to be tied 2-2 given how unstoppable the Thunder's big two have been. Through three games the Clippers had figured out that beyond Matt Barnes they had no good options for defending Kevin Durant (and even Barnes was at best a mediocre option). In Game 4, in what Doc Rivers termed "desperate coaching" they put Chris Paul on him for the final 10 minutes. Paul is giving away at least nine inches in height and more than that in length, but he took Durant's space, kept him from driving, and the Clippers sent double teams that seemed to confuse Durant, who committed three turnovers in the quarter. Is it a long term solution? We'll see. The good news is that OKC doesn't seem to have an answer for the Clippers small ball unit -- but the bad news is that the Clippers still haven't shown much ability to consistently stop either Westbrook or Durant.

The Antagonist:

How will the Thunder come out in Game 5? They have to feel more than a little shell-shocked; they know that they had every chance to put this series more or less on ice by taking a 3-1 lead. By letting Game 4 slip away, did they lose their grip on the series? If they are distracted in Game 5, then they very well could. The Thunder could not very well ask for more from their superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both have been unstoppable in all four games. And yet the series is tied 2-2. The Thunder won Games 2 and 3 when they got at least something from the supporting cast -- they lost games 1 and 4 when those guys were more or less no shows. So yes, they need the other guys to step up and do something -- but they also need Westbrook and Durant to continue to dominate. A bad game from either of those guys would seemingly be lethal for OKC's chances, as they've needed every bit of their greatness to this point.

The Subplots

  • Series preview. Be sure to revisit the series preview which contains some of the overarching points for the series. I won't repeat those points here.
  • Keys to the series. Be sure to check out Mark Travis' Keys to the Series post for his insights. Mark will be attending all of the games in Oklahoma City covering it for Clips Nation, so he'll be bringing us on site reporting from Oklahoma throughout the series.
  • Ibaka. Serge Ibaka hit Blake Griffin below the belt for the second time in 14 months on Sunday afternoon -- and for the second time in 14 months, the league decided that his punch was not worthy of a suspension. Honestly, the one last March was much more blatant and suspension-worthy -- I'm completely at a loss as to why he escaped a suspension in that case. This one was less egregious -- but it's more than a little bizarre that this guy has hit Blake Griffin in the groin NOT ONCE BUT TWICE and has yet to be suspended for it. Apparently this is all just the biggest coincidence ever and none of it is intentional.
  • Collison. Darren Collison was huge for the Clippers throughout the regular season, but he had struggled in the postseason so far. Until Sunday. He scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including the four straight that gave the Clippers their biggest lead of the night and proved to be the difference. Collison, and the entire LA team, attacked the rim relentlessly in the fourth and stole the win right out from under OKC. He needs to do a better job of staying in front of Westbrook when he's in there -- easier said than done -- but his aggressiveness on offense was a huge factor in Game 4.
  • It takes nerve. Kevin Durant went to the line 18 times in Game 4 -- and then complained that he didn't get enough calls. And yes, Durant gets a lot of attention and yes you could call fouls on a lot of NBA plays -- but those statements apply equally well to Chris Paul (four free throws) and Blake Griffin (11 free throws). In Griffin's case, there's a very nice video of him being whacked in the balls without getting a call. I'm kind of at a loss for how Durant has any room to gripe. In a related note, Russell Westbrook says the Clippers flop a lot. How original.
  • Clipper offense. For all of Game 1 and the final quarter of Game 4, the Clippers offense has been unstoppable. In Game 4 part of that was the small lineup. The Thunder are thrilled to play small -- getting Kendrick Perkins off the floor is a big plus for them. But in down the stretch of Game 4, the middle screen and roll brought Ibaka, the only big, out away from the rim. Then he was so hesitant to leave Griffin (which would open him up to a lob dunk poster) that he failed to stop the dribble. With no other big in sight, Chris Paul (and Collison and Jamal Crawford) waltzed in for layup after layup in the fourth. In Game 1 that play was augmented by great perimeter shooting -- in Game 4, the Clippers were 3-21 from deep, but in the end it didn't even matter because they got mostly layups. If they can start hitting from the perimeter again, the Thunder could be in Game 1 style trouble.
  • Westbrook. I've sort of had the vague feeling that Russell Westbrook has been a very different player in this series than he's ever been before in the playoffs. Finally I decided to look it up. Apparently he likes to play against LA teams (at least in the post season -- he's been terrible against the Clippers in the regular season). Westbrook has played in 56 playoff games in his career. In his first four, against the Lakers in 2010, he shot better than 50 percent. In the next 47, he shot better than 50 percent seven times. In this series he's been over 50 percent three times (and he was 10-22 in the fourth). He's been every bit of the good Russell and none of the bad Russell in this series. So here's my question: is it more likely that we've witnessed an evolution, that this is just who he is now? Or is it more likely that he's just had a random sequence of good games and is overdue for a 4-23 outing?
  • Paul on KD. It worked for ten minutes of Game 4 -- can it work in the rest of the series? Let's clear something up first of all -- I've seen it reported in more than one place that Paul forced KD to miss -- that is not true. Durant was 3-4 while Paul was guarding him and also drew a foul. What did happen is that he was limited in his shots -- the Thunder want him to get more chances than that over the course of ten minutes -- and that he turned the ball over. Paul's job was to get up into Durant and make it difficult to get the ball, and once he did get the ball they sent help. Durant turned the ball over three times in the fourth, and all three led to Clipper layups -- quick scores being crucial in the comeback. One suspects that OKC will handle the double better the next time it comes, and also try to get Durant the ball closer to the basket if Paul is on him. Putting CP3 on KD probably isn't a viable long term solution -- but Game 4 proves that it's an option, if perhaps a 'desperate' one.
  • Making shots. After Game 3 I wrote about the fact that down the stretch of that game, the Clippers actually got better shots than OKC did -- but only the bad guys shots were going in. The same thing happened at the beginning of Game 4. The Clippers clearly weren't at their best in falling behind 15-3 before the first timeout and 29-7 at the worst point, but some of that was just plain dumb random luck. J.J. Redick got a beautiful clean look at a three ball on LA's first possession -- it went halfway down and came out. He had several more good looks in the first quarter, but none of them fell. Meanwhile Serge Ibaka made a three at the shot clock buzzer and another corner three a few moments later. In a world where Serge Ibaka is a better three point shooter than J.J. Redick it's not surprising that the Clippers trail by 22 against the Thunder.
  • Clipper wings. The Clippers' starting wings of J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes combined to score six points on 2-14 shooting, 1-7 from beyond the three point line. The fact that the Clippers were able to win a game in which they got so much nothing from their starting wings is remarkable in and of itself.
  • Help on Durant. Rivers went to Paul on Durant because Barnes needed a rest and nothing else had worked. He stuck with it -- and left Barnes on the bench the entire fourth quarter -- because Barnes hadn't actually done much to slow Durant, and had been dreadful on offense (see above). The Clippers still need better options. Rivers tried Griffin for a bit -- but he did not play a single possession with either Danny Granger or Jared Dudley defending KD (Dudley got a merciful DNP). I honestly don't know what the answer is -- Paul is a desperate move in Rivers own words and nothing else is working. This is the scenario I feared heading into a Thunder series and it's coming true in spades.
  • Granger. Danny Granger did not play a minute in the first half. He made his first appearance in the game late in the third quarter -- and never sat down again. His box score numbers are almost non-existent -- zero points and one rebound -- but Rivers was quick to praise him in his postgame comments. Bear in mind that in Game 3, Griffin was forced to defend Caron Butler and on a couple of occasions got hung up on flare screens that freed Butler for three pointers. Griffin is neither accustomed nor eager to defend the three point line. In a small lineup with Griffin at the five and Granger at the four, Griffin was inside on Ibaka and Granger stayed home on Butler. Rivers liked his defensive positioning and his activity on the glass, where he was boxing out even if he wasn't getting rebounds. If he could make a shot that would be pretty sweet.
  • Connections. Blake Griffin was born and raised in Oklahoma near Oklahoma City and played his college ball at OU in Norman. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was on the Clippers for about a month in January 1999, though he never got into a game. Former Clipper Ryan Gomes began the season with the Thunder, while former OKC player Byron Mullens began the season with the Clippers, but both are now gone. In Gomes' place is another recent Clippers small forward, Caron Butler. Chris Paul played his first two seasons in Oklahoma City while the Hornets were displaced from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook were teammates at UCLA, where Collison started at the point pushing Westbrook to shooting guard. Doc Rivers coached Kendrick Perkins at Boston, where they won a title together and might have won another had Perkins not torn his ACL in the playoffs.
  • Get the OKC perspective at Welcome to Loud City.
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