May 11, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: Thunder stumble, Clippers rally to tie series 2-2

Clippers 101, Thunder 99 (Series tied 2-2)
Kevin Durant: 40 points (12-24 FG,) 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Chris Paul: 23 points (10-23 FG,) 10 assists, 5 rebounds 

The Los Angeles Clippers have been involved in each of the last three 20 point comebacks in the NBA postseason. (ESPN Stats & Info.) One of those games was a victory and the other a defeat, but Sunday afternoon they amazed again. The Clippers stunned Oklahoma City and ignited an intense sense of excitement in the basketball world as they claimed another come from behind victory against the Thunder.

OKC started off the game with an aggressive early blitz, pouncing on the Clippers from the jump as they looked to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Thunder saw their lead go as high as 22 points, as they were simply shredding the Clippers in the early stages of the contest. 

The Thunder marched into halftime with a 57-46 lead, after warding off any and every Clipper run throughout the first half. Any type of momentum and energy the crowd and or team would muster up, the Thunder found a way quickly dismiss the excitement with a big shot or play.
OKC closed the 2nd quarter forcefully with a 18-11 run, a run that included Kevin Durant pouring in 7 of his 40 points. 

In the second half, the Clippers finally harnessed the waves of momentum that were briefly felt in the first half, finding a way to finally terrorize Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and close the gap. They employed a fierceness in the fourth quarter that allowed them to claim their first lead with a minute remaining in the contest.

The Thunder had the lead as high as 15 in the fourth quarter, but found themselves imploding by games end. 

In the intermediate stages of the fourth quarter, the triumph was led by Chris Paul, who reeled off 6 straight points for the Clippers as they gave their dearest effort to crawl back in it. Blake Griffin also nailed some huge free throws, continuing the Clips slicing of the Oklahoma City lead. Jamal Crawford swished a three point bomb with 1:23 left to give Los Angeles their first lead.

Chris Paul took on the toughest of duties defensively as he latched himself on to Kevin Durant's hips, attempting to lock down the league MVP. 

As Chris Paul waged war in the deepest of trenches on the defensive end, Darren Collison felt a tingle in his game that may have possibly saved the Clippers season. Collison dumped in 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, as him and the 6th man of the year Crawford combined for 19 fourth quarter points.

Collison's two straight layups gave LA a 101-97 advantage, as they were looking to stave off another playoff meltdown, once that superstar point guard Chris Paul is quite frankly tired of. 

Westbrook was able to quickly score on a layup which only made the Thunder deficit two, with time to possibly win or tie the game with a stop.

The Thunder were able to fare well on the defensive end of the floor, as Blake Griffin's interior fling at the rim missed the mark and Serge Ibaka snatched down the rebound. Thabo Sefolosha took a few dribbles then pitched the ball to Westbrook, who some claim neglected Kevin Durant to instead launch a three pointer that was off as the final buzzer sounded.

The Thunder's seemingly assured victory just danced out of the window, the frustration and disbelief amassed in their souls and the Clippers spirits became heightened more than ever. Coming back from being down 3-1 is a strenuous task, and one that's nearly impossible against a team like the Thunder. 

It's not surprising that these Clippers overcame what seemed to be insurmountable odds, as they defeated the horrific ignorance of former owner Donald Sterling, then proceeded to come back from a 12 point deficit in game seven against Golden State in their first round series. 

Trumping the intimidating odds that stood before them in Sunday's game is just another chapter in this memorable Clippers postseason run.

How many more chapters are to be added remains to be seen, as these Clippers continue their intense pursuit of an NBA championship.

For Oklahoma City this is a gut wrenching loss. Their psyche is now scrambled, realizing they blew a grand opportunity to go up 3-1 in the series and put the Clippers in a sturdy stranglehold.

In the twittersphere, my timeline was over saturated with complaints of Russell Westbrook's erratic decision making. Some claimed that Kevin Durant should've had the ball in his hands, because as MVP of the league, it's your obligation to deliver in crunch time. 

Other's stated that Kevin Durant's greatest stopper is Westbrook himself, as his poor decision making and shot selection greatly curtails the Thunder and the fluency of their offense.

Some clung to the conviction that Scott Brooks is a poor coach, and does a crummy job of designing plays and revising schemes in the most important moments of the game. 

Mostly though, the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of Westbrook, who many claimed should have thrown the ball to Kevin Durant in the games waning moments, putting the fate of the contest in KD's hands.

An ugly trend seems to be developing on social media and amongst basketball fans. When things go awry for the Thunder, we should blame Russell Westbrook. That's what seemed to take place Sunday afternoon, as many accused Westbrook of squandering away the game for the Thunder.
The fans that seem to engage in the most dedicated heckling of Russell Westbrook, fail to ignore several other important notions that determine the outcome of a basketball game.

Is it Russell Westbrook's fault that Los Angeles outscored Oklahoma City 52-32 in the paint on Sunday? Should we belittle Westbrook's 27 point, 8 assist and 6 rebound performance due to the fact he didn't make what would have been a ridiculous pass to an unsuspecting superstar? Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison had 18 points apiece off the bench, the Thunder bench had 19 points total. The Clippers bench scored a total of 40 points, the most they've had all series. Is Russell at fault for this as well? 

Is Russell the individual responsible for Kevin Durant splitting two crucial free throw's in the fourth quarter and having 8 turnovers, which doubles the number of TO's he had? 

Obviously Kevin Durant's 40 big points was a key component in Oklahoma City's success throughout the game, but Westbrook's contributions were equally important as well.

The people screaming for Russell Westbrook to patch up his decision making and play better basketball, ignore the fact that he is the league's second best point guard and a top 10 player in the game today.

As a player who possesses unique and dynamic superstar talent, it's not unacceptable for Westbrook to launch what other's may consider "bad shots," when the game is on the line.

As one of the best players in the game today, relying on Westbrook to take a last second shot isn't the worst of ideas. He's shown the capability to swing the scoring margin in OKC's favor in crunch time, with numerous clutch shots throughout his career.

If Kevin Durant was to miss that game winning three pointer, the fans perception would greatly differ from the one that is currently afloat. Many would be congratulating Los Angeles on a remarkable comeback, one that could possibly change the outcome of this series. 

The criticism of Durant would be bypassed, as fans would simply just recognize that every clutch shot doesn't go down. But for some reason, when Westbrook is the one shooting and missing the big bucket, a tsunami of hate comes swirling his way. 
This picture slid it's way into my twitter feed, with someone stating "look at Durant and Ibaka!" I will be the first to admit, Westbrook could have darted that ball to Ibaka for a game tying interior bucket that would have provided overtime, but who's to say Griffin and or Granger couldn't recover quickly enough to challenge Ibaka and or foul him.

Could Ibaka have swiftly glided to the free throw line and knock down two big free throws to tie the game on the road? Could Serge have finished what was sure to be a pressure filled bucket over a leaping Griffin and Granger in a brief amount of time? We can only speculate at this point. 

Other's berated Westbrook for not slinging the ball to Durant, whom many thought had a fantastic look at the hoop from three to win the game. But those that were so quick to scream about Durant being wide open fail to remember that he was 1-7 from behind the arc in the game. 

Was Westbrook was suppose to cease mid-shot, pass the ball to Durant who was parked on the wing with a lurking Chris Paul? The same Chris Paul that successfully hounded Durant all fourth quarter long? Chris Paul was the NBA's leading thief this season, and just know that the moment he sensed any fickleness in Westbrook's mind, he was going to immediately latch himself to KD positioning himself for a steal.

If Westbrook had passed the ball to Durant, how much time would have been left for Durant to get a clean look? If the ball was to stroll out of bounds, or Durant clanked worst than Russ, fans would be screaming how idiotic Westbrook can be on the court. He made the right decision.

Russell Westbrook had an excellent look and simply missed. It was the bitter topping to the Thunder's epic collapse in Los Angeles. The Clippers should have never been in the position to emerge victorious, especially with the magnificent start Oklahoma City got out to. 

Collectively the Thunder were the ones that stumbled. Their stagnant offense, iffy spacing, poor play design and defense in the paint is what ultimately doomed them. When Doc Rivers chose to go to a  small lineup by playing Paul, Collinson, Crawford, Granger and Griffin in crunch time, he forced Scott Brooks hand as he rolled out a lineup of Westbrook, Jackson, Butler, Durant and Ibaka to end the game.

Continually Ibaka would switch on the pick and rolls, pushing him away from the area in which he thrives with his devastating shot blocks; the paint. There was simply no rim protection for the Clippers, which perfectly illustrates their guards ability to get those layups in the fourth quarter.

In the last period, Los Angeles made 12 restricted area baskets. They had made 12 in the previous three quarters combined. They also shot a breathtaking 64% from the floor in the fourth, scoring 38 points. In the last 90 seconds of the game, Durant only touched the ball once. That touch spanned a mere one second, as he was double teamed and forced to kick it back out. Some miscues down the stretch include a failed Oklahoma City play out of a timeout that intended to post up Durant on Paul. Paul fronted Durant, denying him the ball, which forced Westbrook into a layup that rimmed out. 

Scott Brook's coaching tactics have been questioned more than ever this postseason, and some head scratching play calls were made on Sunday. Kevin Durant has the ability to shoot over almost anyone this league has to offer, so why continue to make a concentrated effort to have Durant post up Paul. Why not allow him to catch and face up CP3? 

Why did OKC's plays out of timeouts falter so quickly, especially when Los Angeles doesn't have any lockdown perimeter defenders and their best rim protector DeAndre Jordan was on the bench during crunch time in the fourth quarter? 

Is Scott Brook's ability to design plays truly that poor? It surely seemed so, as he was thoroughly out coached by Doc Rivers. 
Short and simply, Oklahoma City just threw this game way. It will be up to them to regain composure, regroup and fixate their minds on concluding this series with wins in game's five and six. 

For Los Angeles their title journey continues. However, they cannot let the high of this fantastic comeback victory linger any longer than today. When the Clippers had that remarkable 27 point comeback victory against Memphis in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, they dropped the next game 105-98.

They need to come out with a potent and aggressive energy, the prospect of being able to close out this series at STAPLES Center has to be ultra appealing to them. Bringing this thought to fruition could help Chris Paul and Blake Griffin clinch their first Western Conference Finals berth. 

The aura in Chesapeake Bay Arena is sure to be an insane one, as the faithful patrons of Oklahoma City will look to cheer their squad on to another home playoff victory. All OKC fans will admit that cheering on their team to close out this series would've have been a much sweeter prospect, putting them one step closer to claiming an NBA championship.

However, these same fans will realize what an abundance of others fail to pay attention to, an Oklahoma City playoff blunder isn't solely Russell Westbrook's fault, because without him the Thunder would be watching the latter rounds of the playoffs, not playing in them. 

Will OKC still win the series, or does LA have all the momentum? Hit me with thoughts and opinions on Twitter (@wcboyer24) and continue to support The Basketball Society 

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