The final minute of this game, in a nutshell:
Russell Westbrook is amazing!
Blake Griffin is amazing!
Russell Westbrook is amazing!
Chris Paul is amazing!
Kevin Durant is amazing! (Especially since he was so cold all night!)
Damn, Kevin Durant is amazing!
Got all that? The final minute of this game deserves its own folk song, but before we get into the details, let me quickly catch you up on the 47 minutes that preceded it.
The Clippers came out with energy, and Chris Paul lit up the Thunder for 16 of his 32 points in the first quarter. Then, Cole Aldrich made a rare on-court appearance, stole the ball a couple times, and put in some nice minutes as a small measure of revenge against the team that drafted him.
The second was a surreal kind of mess. Both teams played super small for a long stretch. The Clippers played a rarely seen bench lineup with Wes Johnson playing power forward and Josh Smith planted on the bench. The Thunder couldn't shoot. Neither could Blake Griffin. The Clippers led by 2 at the half.
The third quarter nearly repeated the first. Chris Paul shouldered the scoring load with Blake scuffling along, and a bench unit spearheaded by an energetic Aldrich and a tantalizingly unpredictable Lance Stephenson held the Thunder off long enough to give Paul nearly 4 minutes of rest to begin the fourth. That's when Russell Westbrook and his relentlessness took over and dragged Oklahoma City back to within 2 and the final minute of the game, which is where we left off.
Let's do this in diary form:
1:00 remaining. The Thunder take a timeout, trailing 93-95.
:48 remaining. Russell Westbrook drains a 26-foot three. Thunder lead 96-95.
:37 remaining. Chris Paul throws a no-look laser at a 7 o'clock angle to Blake, who throws down over a retreating Serge Ibaka. Clippers back up 97-96. Thunder take timeout. Blake and Steven Adams each pretend to be held by one another. It's the Pacino vs. DeNiro of basketball acting.
:29 remaining. Westbrook drills a quick two-pointer. Thunder back up 98-97. Clippers take timeout.
:14 remaining. The Thunder swallow up a Chris Paul foray into the paint. JJ Redick works the secondary action and loses the ball to Westbrook, fouling him in the process. It's a rare miscue by Redick. Thunder possession, but no free throws yet.
:11 remaining. CHRIS PAUL STEALS THE INBOUND AND LAYS IT IN! Most of the team and the crowd, along with Paul himself, were clamoring for a foul on the layup. This writer was OK with the no-call, but expects many rebuttals in the comments. Clippers lead again, 99-98.
:05 remaining. Kevin Durant hits a long two-point jumper, because of course he can, even though he's been shooting bricks for 47:55. Thunder up 100-99.
:00 remaining. Kevin Durant blocks Chris Paul as time expires, coming over from a helping position to snuff out the game-winning attempt. It was going to be a tough shot anyway, with Paul attempting to shoot over noted shot-blocker Ibaka. Ballgame.
It was an epic final minute, one built upon superstar plays. The Clippers came up just one play short on balance, but Chris Paul has nothing to apologize for. With Blake struggling through a 7-for-21 shooting performance, Paul took up the scoring load, and pretty much every other load too. He added 10 assists, 5 boards, 2 steals, and steely defense to his team-high 32 points.
The Clippers also deserve some credit for their defensive plan. They switched on the perimeter and bothered the Thunder's deep looks. They played conservatively in the paint and protected the rim. Sure, they gave the Thunder a lot of open looks, but those open looks were from midrange, and if you're going to give good looks, that's the place to do it. The Thunder did their part in missing many of those open looks, and the Clippers did well enough to keep themselves from getting killed on second-chance attempts by the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA.
Westbrook and Durant combined for 57 points, but it took them 49 shots to get there. On many nights, that would've been good enough for the win. Tonight, it was 1 point short.
Chris Paul passed Terry Porter for 13th on the NBA's all-time career assists list... JJ Redick set a career high with more than 3 threes for the 6th straight game... Paul Pierce was held out of the game with a sore back. According to media reports, it doesn't appear to be serious.