A series-defining call. That’s what Doc Rivers called it, and it very well may just prove to be. The Oklahoma City Thunder managed to squeak out their own comeback win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals to take a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers, but it was not without controversy. The Thunder trailed by 13 points with 4:13 left in the game after Jamal Crawford hit a three, but they closed the game on a 17-3 run to head back to Los Angeles with a 105-104 victory.
It was a three day span that saw two improbable and incredible comebacks, one by each team. The Clippers and Thunder became the first teams in NBA history to both erase 13+ point deficits in the 4th quarter of the same series. It was a much needed win for the Thunder following their Mother’s Day meltdown in which they let Darren Collison bring his team all the way back to tie up the series. As improbable as the Clippers’ Game 4 victory was, it was Monday’s Game 5 that was even more astounding.
The Thunder’s chance of winning was three times more improbable than the Clippers winning Game 4, where they never fell below a 1.7% win probability. With 49 seconds left in Game 5, however, the Clippers’ win probability according to Inpredictable.com was 0.6%, coming after Chris Paul hit a jumper to put the Clippers up 104-97.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
49 seconds – Jamal Crawford hits a three-pointer, 104-97 (Win Probability: 0.6%)
43.7 seconds – Kevin Durant hits a three-pointer over Glen Davis, 104-100 (Win Probability: 3.3%)
21.1 seconds – Jamal Crawford misses two foot layup, 104-100 (Win Probability: 5.0%)
17.8 seconds – Russell Westbrook passes to Durant for layup, 104-102 (Win Probability: 8.0%)
11.3 seconds – Westbrook strips ball from Chris Paul, Reggie Jackson drives to hoop, ball goes out of bounds for Thunder possession, 104-102 (Win Probability: 20.2%)
6.4 seconds – Paul fouls Westbrook on a three-pointer, 104-102 (Win Probability: 50.3%)
6.4 seconds – Westbrook makes free throw 1 of 3, 104-103 (Win Probability: 57.5%)
6.4 seconds – Westbrook makes free throw 2 of 3, 104-104 (Win Probability: 65.2%)
6.4 seconds – Westbrook makes free throw 3 of 3, 104-105 (Win Probability: 72.5%)
2.1 seconds – Paul loses ball to Serge Ibaka, 104-105 (Win Probability: 91.0%)
0.0 seconds – Game ends, 104-105 (Win Probability: 100%)
You have to hand it to the Thunder. In the span of 49 seconds, they went from going to Los Angeles needing a win to stay alive to now having two chances at advancing to the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant, who seemed absent for most of the game, showed up big time in the final four minutes, hitting two clutch three-pointers and some big layups. He finished with 27 points on just 6-22 shooting, but was 12-12 from the free throw line. Westbrook, on the other hand, carried the Thunder through Game 5, finishing with 38 points, none bigger than his clutch free throws to take the lead. Durant and Westbrook were the only two Thunder players in double figures, however, and that will need to change if the team wants to seriously contend for the NBA title.
But now to what everyone seems to be talking about: The Call.
After Durant put in a transition layup to pull within two, Matt Barnes inbounded the ball to Chris Paul. With only 17.8 seconds left, all Paul had to do was hold onto the ball and force the Thunder to foul him and send him to the line to make free throws that would ice the game. But, for some strange reason, Paul did not cover up the ball when Westbrook came charging at him. Whether he was trying to go into a shooting motion to get three free throws instead of two, which is completely unnecessary, or trying to pass upcourt to Big Baby, which is completely stupid, Paul’s decision enabled Westbrook to poke the ball loose. With the ball free at around midcourt, Reggie Jackson swooped in to pick it up and dribble towards the basket. With just Matt Barnes back to defend and Westbrook and Durant to his side, the smart thing for Jackson to do would have been to pass it to one of his teammates for an easy layup to tie the game. However, he went at Barnes looking to draw a foul. Barnes clearly hit Jackson’s wrist and jarred the ball loose, causing it to go out of bounds. Baseline referee Tony Brothers initially ruled that the ball went off of Barnes and remained with the Thunder. After the referees reviewed the call, they maintained their initial ruling. Even as a Thunder fan, I was shocked with this ruling, as the ball seemed to clearly go off of Jackson’s hand.
The referee’s explained that there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the call, perhaps suggesting that it was not clear that the ball actually touched Jackson’s wrist after Barnes poked it loose. Another potential explanation is that the Thunder were awarded the ball as a make-up for missing the foul as Jackson drove to the basket. Fouls are non-reviewable in the NBA, so this one is less likely, but still intriguing. NBA referees will never admit to it, but everyone is subject to make-up calls every once in a while.
Brothers released a statement on the call after the game: “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 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 of. When it’s inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor”
An irate Doc Rivers expressed his displeasure with the call after the game, calling it a blown call that could be a series defining moment.
While I am happy that the Thunder pulled away with the win, Rivers is right. The call, while not being a deciding factor, had a huge hand in how the game finished and how it will be viewed in the future. It also put a huge dent in the Clippers’ chances of moving on. Vegas odds makers now have the Clippers as a 27.89% chance to advance to the Western Conference Finals, as compared to the 78.97% that they had if they had held on for the win.
You never want to see referees determining the outcome of games, but Clippers fans cannot blame it all on the refs. They played awful down the stretch, particularly their star point guard Chris Paul. Paul only seemed concerned with milking the clock, and committed two key turnovers and a huge, yet questionable, foul on a three point shooter down the stretch. It might have actually been the worst game of Paul’s career, despite his 17 points and 14 assists. He was responsible for accumulating an added winning percentage of -26.8% in the game, meaning he hurt the Clippers chances of winning by almost 27%. Most of that came from the turnovers in crunch time, such as the turnover that ended the game which accounted for -18.6%, but it was simply a sloppy performance overall by CP3. This sets the Clippers up in a must-win Game 6 at home on Thursday, and it will be interesting to see how they can bounce back from the gut punch that was the end of Game 5. Game 7 will be in Oklahoma City on Saturday if necessary.
Thunder Fact of the Day: The Thunder have won their last 11 games officiated by Tony Brothers, the crew chief from Tuesday night’s Game 5.
Thunder Play of the Day: Thabo Sefolosha posterizes DeAndre Jordan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0fzDo9I9EQ
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