NBA Playoffs Round 2 Clippers-Thunder Game 6 preview: Backs to the wall

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers stole Game 4, then gave away Game 5 with a lot of help from the referees. Now they face elimination in Game 6 and have to win two in a row to keep their season alive.

2014 NBA Playoffs
First Round
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vs

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57-25

59-23
Game 6 - May 15th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
ESPN, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
The Thunder lead the series 3-2
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 in Oklahoma City, Thunder 105-Clippers 104
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:

What can I say about Game 6 that I haven't already said in this series? What can I tell you about Game 5 that you don't already know? The Clippers should be up 3-2 playing at home for their first ever trip to a Conference Final; instead, they're playing for their season. That's the bad news: the good news is that they've certainly shown that they can beat the Thunder. Then again, while the last three games have all been very close, the only one in which the Clippers looked like clearly better team ended up being a loss -- and they probably can't count on many more 6-22 nights from Kevin Durant. When asked if they could put the devastating Game 5 loss behind them, Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin all said the same thing: "we have to." Saying it and doing it are two different things of course. Still, winning this series is about winning two more games, and that starts with a win tonight.

The Antagonist:

Through four games, the Thunder had gotten four great performances from Kevin Durant and four great performances from Russell Westbrook. One of them struggled making shots in Game 5, and it wasn't the one I thought it would be. That the Thunder came away with a win in Durant's worst game of the series probably doesn't bode well for the Clippers -- that was a huge advantage that they won't likely have again. On the other, Durant and Westbrook haven't gotten a lot of help from anyone else since Serge Ibaka's Game 3 outburst, and you have to go back to Game 2 to find my impact from anyone beyond their big three. Until someone else steps up, nothing will be easy for the Thunder even if KD and RW are great.

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.
  • Game 5. In the list of things the NBA did to help the Thunder in Game 5, we probably should not forget that they chose not to suspend Serge Ibaka, who hit Blake Griffin below the belt for the second time in 14 months in Game 4.
  • The official statement. The NBA released a statement yesterday saying that the officiating crew got the possession call right on the out of bounds play at the end. It came off a bit Orwellian. They told us there was no clear and conclusive evidence that it was Clippers ball, and included a link in the statement to the clear and conclusive evidence. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Or perhaps the most appropriate Orwell line is somewhat less well known: If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.
  • Why we know it's wrong. Here's the thing about the NBA's official position; they can say what they want. But the very fact that this exploded tells us that the video is clear and conclusive. It it weren't clear and conclusive, then why did Tony Brothers have to release a blatantly fallacious statement on the subject after the game? Official reviews happen all the time, without a shitstorm after them. They got it wrong, which everyone knows. I was watching in a bar. There were Clipper fans and Thunder fans in the bar. When they showed the replays, the Clipper fans started high fiving and the Thunder fans all moaned in dismay. Everyone watching knew whose ball it was. The conclusion everyone drew was clear, if you catch my meaning. Still no explanation from the league on why Brothers lied about what they saw. I'm not quite clear on why this isn't the biggest story in all of this, but I'm still looking for an answer to that question.
  • Paul. The parallel story to the officiating is the Clippers' collapse.  Chris Paul has taken most of that heat, and he deserves it for the turnover that preceded the out of bounds play -- that was a bad, bad turnover. But I'll defend him on everything else. The box score says he turned the ball over twice in the final 15 seconds and also fouled a three point shooter for the winning points, but the simple fact is that only one of those was a bad play. The others weren't good plays of course; they were just plays. Chris says he touched Westbrook on the three, so I'll allow that the referee can call a foul in that situation -- even though nine times out of ten a referee would NOT call a foul in that situation. But hey, it would be bad not to contest the shot at all as well, so if you want him to contest, you have to accept that he might graze an arm. As for the final turnover, it's never going to be easy to score in that situation, and Paul was clearly fouled across the arm as well.
  • The real breakdown. The real breakdown at the end, which Doc Rivers pointed out in his comments yesterday, came on transition defense. The Clippers allowed multiple transition baskets during the OKC comeback. The times they got the defense set, they mostly got stops, though Durant did hit two long three pointers.
  • Clipper offense. For all of Game 1, the final quarter of Game 4, and again in Game 5, the Clippers offense has been unstoppable. Even with Paul, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford struggling to make shots in Game 5, the Clippers still scored plenty of points.
  • Clipper defense. Did the Clippers figure something out in Game 5 against Durant, or did KD simply have an off night? I'm guessing the latter. After winning Game 4 using Paul on KD, Doc went back to plan A on Tuesday night -- and there was no plan B. Durant played just under 43 minutes -- Matt Barnes played 43 minutes and defended Durant on every possession. The Clippers also did some trapping and some switching and kept Durant guessing, but it all started with playing Barnes as the KD stopper. It helped that Matt was making his shots so he needed to be out there anyway. That will no doubt be plan A again tonight.
  • Westbrook. Regardless of what you think about Russell Westbrook, he has been a major star in this series. In a series featuring the NBA MVP and three of the top seven MVP votegetters, you could argue that Westbrook has been better than any of the others. His performance through five games has also been a complete outlier -- he's never, ever been this good for five straight playoff games; not even close in fact. Is he just in a groove? Is it a super favorable matchup for him? Has he finally figured some stuff out? Or is it just a random series of games that could end at any moment? I'm guessing it's that last thing.
  • 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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