When Blake Griffin overpowered Caron Butler in the post for an easy layin with a little more than six minutes remaining in Game 3 of the Clippers series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles took a 100-99 lead. And as every Clipper fan knows, Lawler's Law clearly states that first to 100 wins.
But laws were made to be broken. In such a tight game with so much time left, the Thunder had plenty of opportunity to break Lawler's Law, which they did with a 118-12 win, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series and putting them squarely in control.
The conventional wisdom says that the team that executes better down the stretch will win in a close game like this. Sometimes however it just comes down to making shots. And at the end, as throughout the game, the Thunder made shots while the Clippers did not.
Over the next five plus minutes, the Thunder made six of nine shots, including two three pointers, while the Clippers missed seven of their ten shots and split two free throws. Was OKC getting significantly better shots? Not at all. Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook each made tough, contested runners in the lane. Westbrook, a 32 percent three point shooter, made a pull up three and Kevin Durant made an unstoppable turnaround 20 footer with Chris Paul draped all over him. On the other end, Jamal Crawford got right to the rim but missed a layup, had a fastbreak layup blocked by Durant and missed an open 18 footer. Matt Barnes missed an open three. Paul missed an open elbow jumper he'd been making all game.
If you review the game film of the key five minutes, from the point where the Clippers were up one until they fell behind eight with just 22 seconds left, the Clippers had perhaps one bad possession (when Paul settled for a long three) -- every other trip, they got great shots, shots that they just happened to miss.
On the other end, they forced two trunovers and contested almost every shot. They did give up an easy one on an offensive rebound by Ibaka, but that was the only true breakdown. I'm not sure why they decided to switch the high screen down the stretch rather than fighting through, and that decision by the coaching staff certainly hurt them. When Griffin switched onto Westbrook, Russell took him off the dribble to get to the rim. When they switched Paul on to Durant, Durant used his extreme length advantage to shoot over him. They both ended up being tough shots -- but the decision to switch made them easier.
If you were to watch the game tape of those five minutes, but took out the results of the shots, you'd think that the Clippers had won the game. They got the better shots. But that's not how basketball works. You have to make the shots too, and sometimes the other team makes more shots.