“They came to play,” goes the cliché. I don’t think there’s any question that the Clippers came to play. Certainly they led most of the night; only briefly did they surrender the lead. And by now, they seem to have Kevin Durant thoroughly cowed. Seriously. At the five-minute mark, KD had the same 17 points he’d had halfway through the third quarter, having made exactly three of 17 shots. (At least he made the free throws, right?) But it wasn’t just Durant. In the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder had scored a mere eight points. Slowly, the Thunder crawled back to the land of the living, cutting a 13-point Clipper lead to four while enjoying the spectacle of DeAndre Jordan’s sixth foul. (Jordan didn’t make a shot all night, but he put up some serious defense.) Blake Griffin broke the string with a free throw; a miss on the second freebie was retrieved by Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and a Chris Paul jumper put the Clips up 104-97 inside the 50-second mark. Then followed two Durant specials for five points, and it was 104-102 with :11 left. Russell Westbrook’s trey fell short, but CP3 was all over him, and Number Zero knocked down all three freebies. OKC 105, Los Angeles 104, with 6.4 left, and then Serge Ibaka took the ball away from Paul. The least-winnable game in this series somehow was won.
And in the end, KD redeemed himself, bagging ten points in those last five minutes, to finish with 27. Westbrook, who made it his business to take up the slack, finished with a game-high 38. Nobody else made double figures, but Steven Adams created nine points for himself, and Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka all kicked in eight. Still: one point.
The Clippers, nonetheless, had three starters with double-doubles: Griffin (24/17 rebounds), Paul (17/14 assists), and Matt Barnes (16/10 rebounds). Jamal Crawford reeled in 19 from the bench. Your Telltale Statistic: the Thunder were called for 21 fouls, giving Los Angeles 20 free throws, of which they made 16, while the Clippers, amazingly, drew 28 fouls, from which OKC went 32-36 from the stripe. Otherwise, the numbers were very close: 44 rebounds for each; L. A. shot 43 percent/44 from outside, OKC 42/41; nine steals for the Thunder, seven for the Clips; five blocks for the Thunder, four for the Clips. If it could have been closer than one point, I suggest, it would have been.
Game 6 is Thursday night at Staples. The Clippers can be expected to bring their A-game. It may take an A-plus to beat them. Then again, it didn’t tonight.