Oklahoma City looked like it was on its way to an easy and short work week. The thought of closing out Los Angeles at The Peake on Tuesday night was a dream scenario for the Thunder.
Unfortunately, that's all it will remain for OKC as the Thunder staged a collapse for the ages in the fourth quarter to allow the Clippers to even the series at 2-2 with a 101-99 victory.
Now, the Thunder has to rally mentally, and rally fast. Game 5 went from a potential closeout game to one that could give the Clippers a closeout game of their own on their homecourt Thursday night. It's a tough position to be in, but the Thunder has to take care of homecourt.
Give the Clippers plenty of credit. They didn't quit after an OKC blitzkrieg in the first quarter opened up a 29-7 lead and a 32-15 lead after the first 12 minutes. They didn't give up later in the game when OKC held a 16-point lead with 9:18 remaining in the game. But while the Clippers didn't give up, the Thunder gave them plenty of help.
Following Reggie Jackson's jumper that gave OKC its lead, the Thunder decided to stop playing defense. Before Los Angeles' final possession, the Clippers scored on 18 of its next 19 possessions. Meanwhile on the offensive end, the Thunder reverted to old ways that have plagued the team for years.
Too much standing around. Too much dribbling. Movement too late in the shot clock. Not getting the ball to Kevin Durant early enough in the possession. All of those things occurred in abundance, and with the Clippers doing whatever they wanted on the offensive end, it was more than enough to allow Los Angeles back in the game.
But why did things come to that in the first place? When Kevin Durant buried a fadeaway jump shot over Danny Granger with 10 minutes left, Clippers coach Doc Rivers put Chris Paul on him. Paul gives up eight inches to Durant, but he battled hard and consistently denied the ball from going to Durant.
Paul is a great defender, but there's no reason whatsoever he should have had that easy of a time to keep Durant from getting the ball. That responsibility falls on Scott Brooks to design something, anything, to get the MVP the ball. To not do so is inexcusable.
Durant said after the game Paul didn't present any problems for him on defense, but rather the double teams L.A. sent at him that forced him into three fourth quarter turnovers.
"When I catch the ball, they sent in a double team," Durant said. "When they sent the double team, they did a good job of crowding me, making me get rid of the ball. When it's one-on-one, I got the advantage."
Durant went 2-of-3 from the field and 1-of-2 from the free throw line in the final 10 minutes. Isolation is terrible offense in basketball, but if you're going to do it, you'd think you would do everything possible to isolate the second-best player on the planet.
Defensively, giving up 38 points in the fourth quarter is about as bad as it gets to close a playoff game, but to give up 12 points in the period to Darren Collison is inexcusable. Not figuring out a defensive answer for the Clippers' pick-and-roll until the lead is well into the single digits is inexcusable. And it's more than inexcusable to play defense rather than foul down two points when the Clippers start their possession with 27.5 seconds left. That's completely foolish and it's pure luck Russell Westbrook even got a final shot to win.
Tied at two, it's hard to call Tuesday night's Game 5 a must-win for the Thunder. Obviously, it's ideal the Thunder take care of business at The Peake and avoid having to win the final two games of the series to advance, but they just did that exact thing last round against Memphis.
It is a must for the Thunder to stop reverting to the old ways, bad habits and poor effort that caused Sunday's collapse. It's a must for OKC to forget about how badly it played in the fourth quarter and focus on how well things were going in the first quarter. It's a must if OKC wants to actually take care of business against the Clippers.