The Scene: Game 5 of the 2014 Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the series knotted at 2 and both teams equally capable of deluding themselves into thinking they actually have a shot against the Spurs, Game 5 represents a turning point not only in the series but also in the fandom of Matt Orr, a Clipper fan since 1999 who still reflexively yells "KILL DUNLEAVY" four times a game, regardless of what sporting event he's watching. As the fourth quarter begins, Matt settles into his couch, draped in the same Sam Cassell t-shirt, Clipper pajama pants, and unwashed boxer-briefs he wore during the Memphis Game 1 comeback in 2012. He is joined by his girlfriend, Mel, a casual Lakers fan (apologies for the redundancy) who has recently embraced the Clippers after watching Wes Johnson attempt to play professional basketball.
Matt is also joined by his best friend, Sam, a fellow Clipper fan since high school whose greatest personal and professional achievement to date involves sharing a Vegas craps table with James Singleton.
The Clippers have mostly outplayed the Thunder through three quarters, but because of some third quarter turnovers, Jamal shooting an uncharacteristically low percentage on step back threes from halfcourt, and an interpretation of the clear path rule evidently derived from an Antonin Scalia dissent no one has ever read, Blake, Chris, and the rest of the troops lead only by 6 heading into the fourth. After pausing the DVR to allow Sam to bring up a Google image of Lil B we reserve for clutch time, Matt presses play on the TNT broadcast...
Matt: "I swear to God if I have to watch that Pitbull playoffs commercial one more time during a needlessly prolonged TV timeout..."
Sam: "I don't understand how the NBA picks these songs every year. Pitbull, Black Eyed Peas, that half-Asian guy from Linkin Park. It's like they go through my sister's workout mix from 2009."
Matt: "Just play Wu-Tang over a clip of Mike Smith dunking. Everyone will realize it's the playoffs."
"SETTLE THE F*** DOWN, HOMIE. IT'S THE PLAYOFFS."
Jamal opens the quarter by driving to the rim and finishing with a ridiculous wrong-footed lefty layup. Clippers up, 88-80.
Sam: "Nice to see something go down for him."
Matt: "If Jesus Christ challenged Jamal to a game of trick-shot H-O-R-S-E, I'm taking Jamal. Well, unless it's the postseason..."
Sam: "I rather watch Jamal go 1 for 19 then watch Jared Dudley...do anything."
Mel: "Dudley is the one with no muscle tone in his arms, right?"
Mel: "Who did you guys trade for him again?"
Matt & Sam: "I don't want to talk about it."
On cue, Westbrook turns at light speed around a pick on Chris Paul, pulls-up and hits a midrange jumper. Clippers up, 88-82.
Matt: "'Hey, Sam. I don't know if you noticed, but Westbrook has been destroying us all series. If we only we had a hyper-athletic defensive ball hawk to guard him. I feel like we had someone vaguely fitting that description last year..."
Sam: "Dude, just stop..."
Matt: "Wait, it's coming back to me now. That guy also could have spelled Chris on Steph Curry in Round 1, so he would still have the energy to film Allstate commercials and answer text messages from Jesse Jackson at halftime."
Sam: "Goddammit dude it's been a year, how are you not over this? I said I was wrong about that trade..."
Matt: "What was his name again? And who did we trade him for? I remember you saying it was a good trade at the time..."
Mel: "Hopefully not Dudley. He looks terrible, and he's just sitting there."
Sam: "We couldn't have gotten JJ without trading him..."
Matt: "LIAR!!! YOU KNOW THAT'S NOT WHAT CLIPPER STEVE SAYS!!!"
Mel: "God, it's Bledsoe, how could I forget? You guys do this every game."
Matt and Sam lose track of the game and argue for 20 minutes about whether Bledsoe's upside was "poor man's Tony Allen, but smaller and less gifted offensively" (Sam) or "Lebron, but WAY better in every conceivable way" (Matt). The Clippers and Thunder trade baskets, Steve Kerr and Marv Albert debate where Doc Rivers ranks in the pantheon of American civil rights leaders ("above Malcolm, but below Martin"), Westbrook goes Space Jam monster over Big Baby at the rim, and the Thunder cut the lead to 2.
"You guys are up 13! You're going to win!"
The Clippers and Thunder trade missed baskets. Then, without warning, the surge begins. With the ball at the top of the key, Jamal realizes he is being guarded by Caron Butler. Jamal analyzes the defense.
Jamal pounces, hitting a fall-away one handed layup/hook thing and nailing the triple aerial somersault dismount. Jamal misses the and-1, but gets a 9.7 from the Romanian judge. Clippers up by 4.
Sam: "Remember when we used to run our first quarter offense through Caron?"
Matt: "Remember when we used to run our first quarter offense through Olowokandi?"
The Clippers and Thunder trade missed baskets and turnovers. Marv Albert talks about how this is the worst shooting game of Kevin Durant's playoff career, before quickly being told by NBA executives to shut up and just talk about how much Durant loves his mother and Jesus and how great that MVP speech was.
Matt: "Based on this series, I kind of feel like Durant should have spent more time thanking Westbrook than thanking his mom."
Sam: "Based God 4EVER."
Chris drives into the paint, does that thing where his head goes Linda Blair in surveying his passing options before finally deciding to shoot the floater, and drains it. Clips up six.
Sam: "New Orleans Chris Paul!!!"
Matt: "All praise David Stern!!!"
The Thunder get a shot-clock violation before Ibaka can put up a 3 that he would probably make because by Clipper fan calculations he's 37/38 from the field for the series. Jamal comes off a curl and hits a jumper. Clips up 8. Another stop. Matt Barnes does that ugly but effective floater in the paint coming off a curl thing. Clips up 10. Durant gets doubled on the next possession, finds a wide open Kendrick Perkins beneath the rim. Blake rotates over and...
Matt and Sam and Mel: "OHHHHHH!!!"
Blake jumps 80 feet into the air, politely waits a couple minutes for Kendrick to start his upward trajectory, and then swats downward to reject him.
Matt: "Jesus. What the hell did Kendrick ever do to Blake?"
Sam: "Somewhere Kris Humphries is having PTSD."
Matt Barnes drives the lane, makes a scary pass to Jamal at the arc. Jamal takes a couple dribbles and then buries another 73 foot bomb. Clippers 101, Oklahoma City 88. 4:10 to play.
COMMENCE THE JINXES.
Matt & Sam: "Lawler's Law."
Steve Kerr, on the TNT broadcast (actual quote): "Wow. This feels like the breaking point right here...The Clippers are making stops, they're getting scores. This is a Clipper club that's been trying to make the next step...Can OKC make a run here to try to get back in it?"
Nate Silver, somewhere in front of an Excel pivot table: "The Thunder's win probability is .000327% right now. This shit is over."
Mike Smith: "WE'RE GOING TO THE SHIP!!!"
Reggie Bullock, on the bench: "Man, if they push this to 20, I might actually get some run."
Doc Rivers: "Nope."
Oprah, somewhere in Chicago: "I'm definitely going to buy this team."
Mel: "You guys are up 13! With four minutes to play! You're going to win!"
Matt and Sam exchange a prolonged look.
Matt: "This isn't the Lakers, Mel. I know you're used to Kobe getting 12 free throws over the last two minutes of every fourth quarter just to ice the game. We don't get that here..."
Mel: "C'mon guys! Chill out, you got this!"
Matt: "Mel, please for the love of God, stop saying that..."
Matt and Sam's Internal Monologue: "Holy shit, we're up 13! Are we actually going to win this? 3-2, heading back to Staples? This doesn't feel like fool's gold. We really do look like the better team in this series..."
"All things are subject to interpretation. Which interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." --Friedrich Nietzsche
"God is dead."--Ralph Lawler
Westbrook drives to the rim and makes an unchallenged layup. Chris Paul walks the ball to the frontcourt, dribbles meaninglessly for 10 seconds, then gives the ball to Jamal for a late shock-clock bailout. Jamal misses a long 3. Durant nails a three on the other end. Doc calls timeout. Clippers 101, Thunder 93, 3:19 to play.
Matt: "Little early for Chris to milk the clock, no?"
Sam: "That's just a hangover from Del Negro ball. Dribble out the clock with a 2 point lead midway through the third quarter--part of the Del Negro pyramid of success."
Things look progressively choppier on offense. Chris gets some open looks, but misses his candy elbow jumper on two consecutive possessions. Durant makes two of the 26 free throws he is legally entitled to take every game, per NBA bylaw. DJ fouls out on a very questionable illegal screen, then does his best Kevin Garnett impersonation as he returns to the bench. Clippers 101, Thunder 95, 2:30 to play.
Matt: "Two minutes of Baby."
Sam: "I wish we still had Byron Mullens."
Matt: "No, you don't."
Sam: "No, I don't."
The Thunder get 400 consecutive offensive rebounds but still fail to score. Chris again dribbles down the clock thinking Jamal will bail him out, only to have Jamal miss another three. The Thunder get a layup in transition. Clippers 101, Thunder 97, 1:15 to play.
Matt: "Oh God..."
Mel: "Weren't they up 13 like 30 seconds ago?"
Blake draws a foul while launching to the rim off a pick and roll. Blake makes the first, Clippers up 5. Blake misses the second, and...
Matt & Sam & Mel: "BABY!!!"
Baby goes Kirby on Ibaka and grabs the offensive board. The Clippers reset, Chris gets to his favorite spot, nails the candy elbow jumper over the arms of an outstretched Perkins, then does his chest-pounding Gladiator thing. Clippers 104, Thunder 97, 49.2 seconds to play.
Matt: "Glen Davis is the greatest power forward in the history of basketball."
Sam: "Say it, dude. Sterling is on his way out. The Thunder really aren't that scary without Harden anymore. Lil B is on our side. It's a new era. Go ahead, say it...
Matt: "We're going to win this game."
Mel: "Told you."
Matt: "But I'll bet you a billion dollars Durant is going to nail a three right here."
Sam: "I'll take that bet. I'll use that money to buy the team."
Matt: "Basketball teams don't cost a billion dollars, dude."
Durant hits a rainbow three over Baby. Clippers 104, Thunder 100. Chris dribbles the ball upcourt, then dumps it to Jamal, who has Perkins isolated on him. Jamal waits for the clock to wind down, waves off the screen, and blows past Perkins, only to watch his beautiful fingeroll rim in and out. Westrbook grabs the board, outlets to Durant for an easy transition layup over Chris. Clippers 104, Thunder 102, 17.8 seconds to play.
"I'm going to throw up"
Matt and Sam begin to instinctively curl into the fetal position on the floor in front of the TV.
Matt: Well, that escalated quickly.
Sam: "It's fine, they have to foul here. As long as Chris doesn't do that stupid thing that never works where he knows a foul is coming and begins his shooting motion..."
Chris does that stupid thing that never works where he knows a foul is coming and begins his shooting motion, only to have Westbrook dislodge the ball. It's unclear whether Westbrook made a clean steal or not, but no whistle materializes.
The ball bounces free to Reggie Jackson, who appears to be fouled by Matt Barnes.
Matt & Sam: "WHERE'S THE FOUL ON CHRIS?!?!"
TNT declines to show a clean replay of Westbrook's steal from Chris, because, honestly, who would want to see that in slow motion? They do, however, show a replay of the apparent foul on Reggie Jackson. Marv explains that the refs did not actually call a foul on Barnes, and simply rule that the ball went off Barnes out of bounds. The replay clearly shows that Barnes did foul Jackson, and that the ball went off Jackson out of bounds.
Mel: "Oh, my God."
Tony Brothers and company huddle in front of an RCA monitor from 1987. The replay is showed repeatedly.
Sam: "This is the same bullshit with Draymond Green and Game 1 of the Golden State series. The refs screwed up not calling the foul, but they can't review the foul. So it's going to be Clipper ball."
Matt: "That's why I got so sick of the Golden State fans saying that series was rigged. It's so childish to say a series is rigged just because one call goes against you, you have to take the series in totality...
A roar erupts from the Thunder crowd.
Matt: "THIS SERIES IS RIGGED!"
Doc Rivers calmly informs the refs that the last two weeks have been pretty awful for him, and then thanks them for putting the marischino cherry on his cowshit sundae.
The Thunder get set up for the inbounds play. Westbrook takes the inbound pass at the baseline and then dribbles back out to the three point arc. He yo-yo's up and down, then rises for the game-winner. The ball caroms flatly off the backboard. But before the ball misses iron, a whistle is blown.
Matt: "I think I'm going to throw up now."
Replays show that Chris indeed tapped Westbrook on the elbow. Westbrook drains all three free throws. Clippers 104, Thunder 105. 6.4 seconds left.
Matt: "Well, he probably figured, 'Hey, I got away with it against Steph Curry..."
Sam: "Literally every close call has gone against us this entire quarter. Literally every one."
The Clippers call timeout. Steve Kerr waxes poetic about the irony of Chris Paul's self-destruction. Matt and Sam sit shellshocked.
Matt: "This is worse than Raja."
Sam: "Way worse."
Mel: "There's 6 seconds left, guys. They can still pull this out."
The Clippers inbound the ball to Chris. Blake sets a screen on Sefalosha, Chris drives to the rim and, just as it looks as he's about to pull up for a tough jumper over Ibaka, the ball gets loose. Ibaka recovers as time runs out.
Matt turns off the television. The three sit in silence for a good five minutes. Finally, Matt turns to Mel.
Matt: "I think we should break up."