Thunder fans were wanting to signal a Blowout Alert in the first quarter after OKC went up an implausible 29-7. Obviously this wasn’t going to go on forever: the Clippers tacked their way back to 32-15 before the quarter ended, pulled to within four in the second, and stayed two or three possessions behind throughout the third. Came the fourth quarter, and a Doc Rivers gamble: put Chris Paul on Kevin Durant. A picture of this accompanies the entry for the word “mismatch” in the dictionary, but it worked: the Thunder offense was thoroughly discombobulated, and the Clippers, who had been down 16 early in the quarter, fought back to a modest lead. And in a scene we’ve seen before, a Russell Westbrook buzzer-beater did not go, and a Serge Ibaka stickback was just a fraction of a second late. Los Angeles 101, Oklahoma City 99, and Doc Rivers is going “Whew!”
This was also the first time in the series that the Clippers outrebounded the Thunder, 45-43. And if the starters didn’t shoot so well, and they didn’t, well, this is where Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison came in, each contributing 18 points to the cause. Blake Griffin, despite playing with five fouls late in the quarter — “I swear to God, Blake Griffin could pull out a gun and shoot somebody on the court, and they’d call a foul on the guy he shot” — had a team-high 25, CP3 finishing with 23 and 10 assists. The number you want to know, though, is seven: Los Angeles had nine turnovers, seven fewer than the Thunder.
Even being hounded by Paul, Durant finished with 40 points, one short of his playoff high, and Westbrook kicked in 27, though he was decidedly hindered by five fouls of his own, as was Ibaka, who finished with a modest eight points, though Serge did come up with four blocks. Too Many Treys Syndrome once again infected the Thunder, who went 7-24 from outside, though it’s hard to cite that as an issue when the Clippers were 3-21. (Both Paul and Matt Barnes missed four each; Barnes, in fact, didn’t connect on a shot all day.) You might consider this, though: the Thunder got off 18 fewer shots than the Clippers. At that level, a lousy percentage (41 for the Clips) doesn’t matter so much.
So there will be a Game 6 in Los Angeles. But first, there will be a Game 5, in OKC late Tuesday, and as radio guy Matt Pinto is wont to say, “we’re back where we started.”
Addendum: Royce Young, very astutely, at Daily Thunder:
I think Doc Rivers used some subversive mindgame voodoo stuff on Scott Brooks by going with CP3 on Durant. The Thunder have this horrible habit of seeing a mismatch and trying to expose it simply by isolation. They did it earlier with Caron Butler on Jamal Crawford. So when the Clippers threw Paul on Durant, it was like a light bulb went off and the Thunder said, “We gotta give it to Durant! He has a small person on him!” The Thunder lost all their spacing and movement.
And, ultimately, the game. I suspect, though, that this is one of those tricks you can only pull off once.