May 13th, 2014 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The sun is setting on Chesapeake Energy Arena as Thunder fans crowd the stadium, apprehensively awaiting a pivotal Game 5 in the Western Conference Semifinals. Not too long ago this series seemed to be all but over, with an overwhelmed Clippers squad staring up at a 16-point deficit in the middle of the fourth quarter and a trip to the heartland down 3-1 looming. Only nine minutes separated them from that nightmarish scenario, and it seemed at this point elimination was just a formality.
Of course, you know what happened. Led by Darren Collison and buoyed by Chris Paul's inspired defense on MVP Kevin Durant, the Clippers roared back and snatched Game 4, tying the series and ensuring there would be at least one more game in Staples Center that spring. Now they return to the Thunderdome, hoping to take the first of a now best-of-three series and put the Thunder on the defensive.
It's been a testy series so far, filled with unpunished genital antics, gritty play, and an astounding helicopter flop that in a better world would never have been forgotten. The Thunder have been chirping, with Durant complaining about the lack of calls in his favor (after a game in which he shot 18 free throws!) and Russell Westbrook resorting to old clichés.
Westbrook on the series physicality: "There's a lot of flopping going on, I can tell you that much. If that's what you call chippyness."
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 12, 2014
Tonight's game is perhaps the most-anticipated so far in the second round. It would be reasonable to say that these two teams have been the 2nd- and 3rd-best in the NBA this season, behind only San Antonio — and one of them will be going home before the Conference Finals. All eyes in the NBA world are tuned into this game...
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Tonight's referees will be Tony Brothers, Bennett Salvatore, and Tom Washington. If anyone's interested. Thunder fans are all dressed in white shirts and smacking some sort of boomsticks rhythmically.
10:51 — After Thabo Sefolosha and J.J. Redick make a pair of layups to open the game, lumbering Kendrick Perkins falls to the floor on a battle for a defensive rebound and draws the first foul of the night on DeAndre Jordan. Jordan hasn't been hugely impactful in this series so far, after playing some of the best basketball of his life in Round 1 against the Warriors, and effectively functioning as the on-court heart and soul of the Clippers as they prevailed in seven hard-fought games. Unfortunately, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka offer a little more resistance than defensive luminaries David Lee, Hilton Armstrong, and Co.
7:37 — Blake is off to a strong start, 3-3 on long jumpers and rebounding well on the other end. Unfortunately, DJ's struggles continue as he gets absolutely lit up by Sefolosha, who has decided to finally break out of his season-long offensive slump pretty much just for this series. Shortly after I say this, he picks up his second foul on a Westbrook jumper, bringing Glen Davis off the bench within five minutes of the game starting.
6:00 — After Perkins embarasses himself offensively, Griffin races down the floor and is knocked down by Serge Ibaka and sent to the line. The crowd jeers the call, which gives Ibaka his second foul as well. Griffin limps to the free-throw line, prompting future head coach Steve Kerr to note that he takes an awful lot of contact every game by driving to the rim. Meanwhile, Sefolosha steals water from a Clipper PR staffer, per Dan Woike.
5:03 — After CP3 splits a double-team and finishes at the rim for an and-1, Blake tips and takes a Westbrook pass coast-to-coast. Instead of a thunderous dunk, he gets collared violently by Westbrook at the rim, but somehow still manages to finish the play and get to the line. Westbrook is charged with a flagrant-1 foul for his excessive play, and Griffin sinks the free throw to give the Clippers an early 11-point advantage at 23-12.
2:12 — Westbrook bullies Chris Paul for a tip-in and-one, beginning to cut into a 30-15 lead. J.J. Redick, who's scored ten points already — including this feed from Griffin — checks out for Darren Collison. Seeing Collison's waterbug speed is astounding, as I'd forgotten how quick he was. It's a stark contrast with this year's plodding, slower-paced Clippers, who don't have anyone with his kind of speed on the team.
0:02 — Baby commits an unnecessary foul on Durant, sending KD to the line for a pair and Davis to the bench with three fouls already. Jared Dudley checks in for a brief cameo till the quarter ends, making what will be his only appearance of the game. Up 34-23, the Clippers seem to have had a pretty good first quarter so far. But they decided to end it on a bad note as Darren Collison loses the ball and fouls Reggie Jackson, who hits Westbrook downcourt for an uncounted dunk. Sigh.
Here we get the first sense that this might be a long night. For some inexplicable reason, the referees decide to review the play for a clear path foul. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr are confused by the decision, and dismiss that notion, speculating that the Zebra Cabal are holding up play only to determine the clock.
Nope. Collison is well in-front of Jackson and isn't trying to impede his movement, while another Clipper defender is downcourt as well, trailing Westbrook. "I've never seen this interpretation," says a shocked Kerr grasping at straws to justify this clearly ludicrous decision. This is only to be the first egregious error in a night chock-full of surprises.
0:00 — The Thunder shoot 17 free throws in the first quarter, including four in the final ten seconds thanks to LA blunders that cut what should have been a 13-point lead down to 9 after twelve minutes of play. This is keeping them in the game despite some major turnover issues so far.
10:30 — A bench-heavy Thunder unit begins chipping into the Clippers' lead, bringing it down to 5 with the help of some Scott Brooks favorites: Derek Fisher and Caron Butler. Fisher's biggest contribution so far is drawing a ridiculous illegal screen call on DeAndre Jordan, giving him his third foul in less than seven minutes of play. Of course, on the next Thunder play, Steven Adams gets away with a blatant hip check on Matt Barnes.
Bennett Salvatore, Tom Washington and Tony Brothers reffing a genuinely important NBA playoff game - what could possibly go wrong?
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 14, 2014
8:13 — Things are getting out of hand. The Thunder cut the lead to 38-37 on back-to-back threes, with LA's only points this quarter coming courtsey of Danny Granger. We go to a media timeout after Collison throws the ball away. After one of his best games as a Clipper two days prior, his play tonight has been a steep dropoff.
7:16 — Barnes gets hit in the nuts by Steven Adams. Thankfully the refs deign to call a foul. OKC has shot over 20 FTs to this point with a 2:1 disparity.
3:28 — Adams has an inspired stretch, driving for a wide-open two-hand throwdown on one end, and demolishing a Barnes floater on the other. Blake takes matters into his own hands and posts him up for an easy bucket in response. On the next play, CP3 displays his handles, eventually penetrating and kicking at a difficult angle out to Jamal Crawford, who nails a spot-up three for his first points of the game, after several earlier failed attempts at Jamalball.
0:52 — Chris picks off a bad outlet from Durant and knocks down a wide-open three to push the lead to 55-45. Westbrook responds with five straight to halve the margin, then draws a charge on a rolling Blake Griffin, his third.
0:00 — The Clippers get the ball with 7 seconds left, taking a 20-second timeout to draw up a final play. Paul drives full-court and gets past a flat-footed Reggie Jackson, forcing Durant to sink in to cut off his drive. Even with his length and recovery speed, it's too much; Redick gets the ball and easily nails a trey over him at the buzzer, bringing the Clippers up to a 58-52 lead at halftime.
They've played well so-far, despite some major foul trouble and stretches of defensive lapses. Considering the opponent, they've played solid defense thus far despite being forced into small lineups with marginal footspeed and rim protection. 25 free throws help keep OKC in the game.
The lousy refs are about to ruin one team's season. Lock it down. I am assigning @Jpdabrams the Game 5 oral history right now to save time.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 14, 2014
11:02 — The Clippers get whistled for two more quick fouls.
Redick is the only Clippers' starter with less than 3 fouls. Serge Ibaka is the only OKC starter with more than 2
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) May 14, 2014
8:47 — This happens.
6:17 — Chris Paul loses the ball out of bounds after a deflection. Kerr notes that CP3 had 31 assists to one turnover over the last three games (36 to 2 including this game so far).
4:56 — DeAndre picks up fouls 4 and 5 in quick succession, going to the bench again for Baby. His play tonight has been poor on both ends, and his disappearance in this series was a major contributor to the Clippers' early exit. He finishes Game 5 with 0 points and 4 rebounds.
4:26 — CP3 turns the ball over for the third time this quarter (he'll finish with five), and Westbrook explodes to the other end and converts a difficult layup to make it a two-point game, 70-68. Paul comes back and draws a foul. At this point, Jamal Crawford enters the game for J.J. Redick, who's scored 16 points on 6-12 shooting.
Redick will not return to the floor until the final play of the game. Doc's refusal to play Redick more during these playoffs, often benching him for Crawford, was a major head-scratcher that didn't help the Clippers' cause in the long run, putting the ball far too often in the hands of a slumping Crawford, who led the Clippers in usage rate for the playoffs (30% in this series) over Paul and Griffin.
3:04 — Westbrook gets an and-one after an extremely dubious whistle on Glen Davis, his fourth. Coming out of the break, we see that Durant is currently 3-15 (a mark salvaged by a perfect 10 spot at the charity stripe), a testament to the Clippers' good defense on him thus far, mostly attributable to Matt Barnes' individual efforts. Barnes has had a phenomenal game, eventually finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
2:52 — Crawford 4-point play. Drink.
1:57 — Big Baby comes up with a phenomenal save of a bad Jamal shot, and the extra possession results in a three-pointer for Matt Barnes from the corner. Baby's had a great game and done everything the Clips really could have asked of him. Unfortunately he gets called for another phantom foul on the next Thunder possession, and another Westbrook and-one gives Baby his fifth. With DJ also in foul trouble and OKC playing big with Adams and Ibaka on the floor, there's not much Doc can do and Davis stays too.
0:00 — Jamal gets another and-one (this time the more traditional three). He's got 10 points on 3-11 shooting so far and he won't sit for the rest of the game. Ryan Hollins gets to play the last possession of the quarter! Clippers lead 86-80 and despite some uneven play and a complete inability to stop Russell Westbrook, it does feel like things are going well for them. One quarter away from a 3-2 series lead and a potential closeout game in Los Angeles.
9:47 — Jamal opens the fourth with an absolutely ridiculous layup. But after that, the Clippers go cold from the field; they're getting good looks and moving the ball, it's just that nothing's falling. The Thunder edge within 4 and CP3's had enough, coming back on after a two-minute kip and immediately ending the mini-drought with a midrange jumper.
9:00 — Westbrook takes flight. It's impressive. You really hope Austin Rivers might emerge this year as a player on this team who's actually able to guard him at some point or other. Blind optimism at its finest. 90-88 Clippers, OKC's circling like a shark in the water.
7:36 — Clippers are 2-10 this quarter, and even though Jamal's taken his fair share they haven't really been bad shots, just missed opportunities. The Thunder interior defense has been impressive over this stretch.
And right on cue, Crawford makes a twisting and-one circus shot over former teammate Caron Butler. Misses the free throw, 92-88 LAC.
6:00 — Durant is 3/17 tonight. It would be his worst shooting game in the playoffs since a Grizzlies tilt exactly three years to the day. TNT plays a clip of Doc at the end of the first half telling Jamal, "We need you," and here in the fourth Jamal has responded. He's played excellently and within the framework of the team, taking spot-up jumpers rather than off-balance isolation fadeaways.
4:36 — Matt Barnes hits a tough runner in the lane to push the lead to ten, and OKC's best response is a Perkins layup obliterated by Blake at the rim. At the other end, Jamal finally decides to start dancing again, and hits a deep rainbow three over Reggie Jackson. 101-88.
This really felt like game. The Loud City crowd is stunned and reduced to murmuring. Four minutes left, up thirteen on the road, on an 11-0 run? Steve Kerr thinks just as much, noting, "Wow, this feels like the breaking point right here."
3:19 — Westbrook hits another layup, and Jamal seems ready to take some heat checks. He misses a 30-foot heave, and Durant responds with a three of his own (with a gorgeous screen by Perkins to set him free), cutting the lead down to eight. Doc takes a quick timeout.
2:40 — CP3 takes a pair of elbow jumpers over Kendrick Perkins, the second coming before the last ten seconds of the shot clock, but the usually money shots hit iron instead. Still 101-93.
2:30 — Durant gets to the free throw line, hits both shots.
2:21 — Jordan fouls out on what's called an illegal screen, finishing with 0 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes of play. After the game, Citizen FlyByKnight goes back and takes note of something unusual.
Just went back and looked at some footage. In the three games in Oklahoma City, the Clippers have been called for 8 illegal screens while the Thunder have been called for 0. In the two games in Los Angeles, the Clippers have been called for 1 illegal screen. Thunder have been called for 2. You mean to tell me, that in a 5-game series thus far, one team has been 9 times more prone to illegal screens than the other team? Unreal.
As another commenter is quick to point out, the other team does have Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams to boot.
Meanwhile, Glen Davis checks back into the game for the final minutes. The Clippers are playing with a closing lineup of Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Davis, while the Thunder respond with Westbrook-Jackson-Durant-Ibaka-Perkins.
1:54 — OKC gets three good looks on this possession: an open midrange shot from Durant, an open wing three from Durant, and a Westbrook layup. None of them fall and the Clippers get the ball back with a six-point lead and only two minutes separating them from victory. Thunder fans boo for lack of a foul call.
1:31 — CP3 decides to just play for time, giving the ball to Jamal for a 30-footer at the end of the clock. The Thunder race down the court off a long rebound, and Durant finds Reggie Jackson for a layup. Four-point game.
0:49 — The Clippers finally decide to start running plays again, and a Paul-Griffin high screen gets Griffin to the line. He makes the first, and after missing the second, Big Baby comes through with an incredible offensive rebound, giving the Clippers another possession and draining crucial time off the clock. Another two-man game leaves Chris with a good look from the elbow over the outstretched arms of Perkins. Money.
It's 104-97 with 50 seconds left, and you have to think this game is just about over, with a 3-2 lead for the Clippers and the chance to eliminate OKC on Thursday night, and dispel the cacophony of critical voices following the team for years in the national media.
0:43 — Los Angeles has a foul to give, and later Doc Rivers will come out and say that it was their intention to use those fouls here and prevent the Thunder from taking a three. Instead, Oklahoma City gets a switch and Kevin Durant buries another three over Glen Davis, who contests that shot as perfectly as anyone could, but alas, to no avail. 104-100. The clock ticks on.
0:17 — Jamal Crawford isolates onto Kendrick Perkins, and gets by him for a perfect look at the rim. The Clippers couldn't ask for a better look than this. But it bounces on the cylinder and rolls out, landing in Westbrook's arms. L.A. was caught watching the shot, and only CP3 gets back on defense as Durant gets an outlet pass, splitting the defense for a transition layup. 104-102. It hasn't been a good few minutes
No need to call for time, with the shot clock not a factor now, the Clippers can just wait it out and play the free throw game (although this is still a nailbiting ordeal, considering their failure to make easy free throws in the clutch in previous games this postseason).
0:13 — All hell breaks loose as Chris makes what might be the most boneheaded play of his career, stubbornly attempting to hoist a shot as he anticipates a foul by Westbrook to send him to the line. The Zebra Cabal holds their whistle, there's some contact on the play, and instead the ball comes free and into the hands of a streaking Reggie Jackson. After the game, CP3 would say:
"The turnover with [13.9] seconds left, assuming they were going to foul, is the dumbest play I ever made. To even put it in the officials' hands to call a foul on a three is just bad basketball."
Meanwhile, Jackson has a 3-on-1 here with Durant and Westbrook unguarded. For some reason, he decides instead to take it straight into Matt Barnes, who gets away with some contact. The ball flies out of bounds, the Thunder crowd is screaming, and Doc Rivers is flabbergasted.
Jackson goes flying. On replay, it looks like a missed foul on Barnes, but there's no way to retroactively assess a foul. The ball is clearly last touched by Jackson. The scene is eerily reminiscent of Game 1 of the Warriors series, where Chris Paul turned the ball over after getting hit by Draymond Green. This time though, it seems like the Clippers will get to be the benefactors of the bad call.
Nope, it's double jeopardy for LA. The referees come back quickly and call Thunder ball, much to the confusion of the announcers and the disbelief of Twitter. One terrible call compounded by another. After the game, crew chief Tony Brothers spoke with a pool reporter, Marc Spears of Yahoo!
When the ball goes out of bounds, the ball was awarded to Oklahoma City. We go review the play. We saw two replays. The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from those two replays it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off. When it's inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor.
Apart from the fact that at least one of those angles was fairly conclusive to most observers, this statement would contradict this image, where the crew clearly has at least a third angle (although, to be fair, it's possible he misspoke):
Later, we also learned that the replays made available to the officials were determined by in-arena personnel, which raises many, many more questions. After the game, Doc Rivers confronted Thunder owner and team thief Clay Bennett.
Coach Doc Rivers marched out of the locker room late Tuesday with fury in his eyes. He headed toward the interview room only to spot Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett walking past in the hallway.
"Wow!" Rivers yelled at Bennett. "Why can't we get the right replay?" Bennett, perhaps still stunned by his unlikely change in fortune, didn't say a word in response and just kept walking.
Rivers and Paul said they were told by the referees that they didn't have the right replay to change the call. That contention is likely what sparked Rivers to yell at Bennett, the Thunder owner, after the game.
"We did a lot of stuff in the game ourselves," Rivers said. "But at the end of the day, we have a replay system that you're supposed to look at it. I don't want to hear that they didn't have that replay. That's a bunch of crap."
The rumblings of impropriety don't stop there, as beat writer Ben Bolch later reported an incident that raise even more questions of ETHICS IN BASKETBALL
Referee crew chief Tony Brothers has some explaining to do beyond the controversial out-of-bounds play. Brothers, the official who ruled that the ball went off Matt Barnes even though replays appeared to indicate Jackson touched it last, explained in a statement that the replays were inconclusive, forcing him to go with his original call. A bigger hullabaloo could involve Brothers being observed hugging Thunder star Kevin Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, before the game. Even if it was intended as a friendly, innocuous gesture, it raised the specter of favoritism toward the Thunder. Such interaction between an official and any friend or relative of a player should be strictly forbidden by the league.
WELP WELP WELP. This is why Clipper Steve published a post titled "Tony Brothers Lies!" after the conclusion of this game.
After the game, many attempted to defend this call using an arcane section of the NBA rulebook that few had ever seen applied before — never mind that it was completely different from the official Zebra Cabal justification.
If a player hits hand causing the ball to go out-of-bound the team whose player had his hand on the ball will retain possession OKC BALL
— Stu Jackson (@StuJackson32) May 14, 2014
In any case, it was now OKC ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
0:06 — WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED MORE BULLSHIT
Here, the arguments that Los Angeles had no room to complain — because their poor play meant they deserved to lose the game — completely fall off the rails. As if the Reggie Jackson decision wasn't boneheaded enough, Westbrook takes the ball out and throws up a prayer from 25+ feet. He's never been a great three-point shooter, and he's playing with the reigning MVP on his team, who also happens to have made some ridiculous shots in the last few minutes.
Instead, he goes full hero ball mode and chucks up a terrible shot that gets rewarded by a foul call on Chris Paul. Three shots. This is really happening. Looking at the replay, it does seem like Paul touched Westbrook — but only for a split second after the release. It wasn't anything like the manhandling he got away with on Steph Curry in Game 3 of the first-round series, and it certainly didn't seem to affect Westbrook's shot (only the referees were so stunned as to think an awful brick from Westbrook was actually the result of a devious foul). Meanwhile, Doc Rivers continues to scream, "THAT'S OUR BALL!" to the referee on the sidelines.
Westbrook makes all three shots as Durant assumes the fetal position under the opposite basket. 105-104 Thunder. Timeout Clippers.
0:00 — The Clippers still have one more chance to win this game. They've been one of the best teams at getting to the line this season, you'd think that if the referees are calling ticky-tack contact on one end then they might deign to do so on the other. Kerr seems to agree, pointing out that Doc berating the officials might have an impact here, especially if Chris Paul can drive to the rim.
Chris gets the ball above the three-point arc, defended by Thabo Sefolosha. Blake Griffin immediately comes over to set a screen. Paul gets the switch onto Ibaka as Blake and Thabo wrestle heading towards the basket. Employing some herky-jerk moves, CP3 heads towards the hoop on the right side of the lane, but with three seconds remaining, Reggie Jackson comes off Jamal Crawford in the corner to slap the ball loose.
Serge Ibaka gets the ball. Paul tries to foul him, but to no avail. Game over.
The Zebra Cabal decides to change its policy again midstream and swallow their whistles on this play. If Jordan could foul out on that illegal screen and Westbrook could get to the line on that shot, certainly this qualifies as a foul? Apparently not.
The Thunder have shot 36 free throws to the Clippers' 20, including 28 for Westbrook and Durant alone. The duo combines for 65 points, while no one else on OKC breaks double digits. Meanwhile, the Clippers have five players scoring at least fifteen points each.
After all the hardships of this postseason, including surviving the Sterling Affair, this is the moment that breaks the Clippers' backs. Although fans try to imagine the team pulling it together and triumphing over yet another instance of adversity, it won't be happening against this Thunder team, one that would have been difficult enough to defeat in a regular series. Two nights later in Los Angeles, Kevin Durant, the Slim Reaper, callously swings the blade into this Clippers season, playing transcendentally and finishing with 39 points and 16 rebounds.
Although the Clippers haven't had a particularly happy history, few moments can compare to the heartbreak felt after this loss. Members of the team react differently in order to cope with the loss. Doc Rivers screams at the refereeing and shouts, "We were robbed!" Chris Paul can only sit there dejectedly, browbeaten and depressed, and it's all he can do to stop himself from sobbing on the spot. All anyone can do is put the blame on themselves for the loss, lamenting all they'd done wrong and wishing they'd had a fair chance to set things right.
That was all-time bad. I'm staying off Twitter.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 14, 2014
A 57-25 season, the best team in Clipper history, statement years from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, finishing third in the MVP and DPOY races, respectively — all that shattered on these jagged cliffs as onlookers observe indifferently, some perhaps cherishing the implosion of a team they love to irrationally hate. And the shadow of a toxic owner still looms above all the proceedings, as if to say that nothing has truly changed, nothing will.
Tonight was truly the Theater of the Absurd.