A Closer Look at the Thunder's Game 5 Rally
The steal. The seal. The rebounds. The deflection. The switch.
These are among the handful of vital plays to unfold in the final four-plus minutes of Game 5 Tuesday night, any of which could claim its rightful stake as the tipping point to the Thunder closing the game with a 17-3 run to stun the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-104, and take a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series.
“What a basketball game,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “One of the things I tell our guys is ‘never, never put your head down. Keep playing until the last second.’ ”
The Thunder did just that, locking in as a group to fight for a victory that didn’t seem probable with 4:12 remaining and the Clippers up, 101-88.
“This feels like the breaking point here,” TNT analyst Steve Kerr said at that moment. “You can see the Clippers’ bench up. They’re getting stops, they’re getting scores.”
The Thunder prides itself on maintaining its emotions, embracing a no-high-is-too-high, no-low-is-too-low philosophy. And with that in mind, it went to work following a time out, methodically chipping away at the lead.
While the NBA world continues to buzz about the final four-plus minutes, a series of plays unfolded that were as instrumental to the victory as Russell Westbrook’s three free throws or Kevin Durant’s two threes.
“I thought a lot of guys made a lot of special plays down the stretch to win this game,” Brooks said.
- THE STEAL: With 15.9 seconds to play and the Clippers leading 104-102, Westbrook knocks the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands. The deflection sends the ball near mid-court and into the hands of Reggie Jackson, who drives hard to the basket and is challenged by Matt Barnes. The ball ends up out of bounds, and controversy ensues as to who touched it last.
- After a lengthy video review, the Thunder is awarded the ball with 11.3 seconds on the clock. The possession ends with Westbrook at the foul line for three attempts having been fouled by Paul. He makes all three, and the Thunder has its first lead since it was 39-38 with 7:56 remaining in the second quarter.
- “Clutch,” Kerr says.
- THE SEAL: With 22.9 seconds to play and the Clippers leading 104-100, Crawford drives the lane and releases a finger roll just over the outstretched hand of Serge Ibaka but the ball bounces off the rim. Kendrick Perkins tips the rebound to Westbrook, who immediately feeds Durant with a pass near midcourt, sending the newly crowned MVP racing to the basket and pulling the Thunder within two.
- Lost in that sequence, however, is potentially a game-changing play by Jackson, who used all 6-foot-3 of his 208—pound frame to keep 6-10, 251-pound Blake Griffin from getting to the rim for an offensive rebound. Griffin had a game-high 17 rebounds at that point, and would finish with 17.
- THE REBOUNDS: With 2:22 remaining and the Thunder trailing 101-95, Durant uses two screens by Perkins to free himself of Barnes and get an open shot. The ball bounces off the rim and into an area where three Clippers await, yet Jackson beats Griffin, Crawford and Glen Davis to the ball and tips it out to Durant for another attempt. Again, the shot is off, but again, Jackson is there to gather the rebound, sealing off 289-pound Davis for his third offensive rebound.
- The extra possessions do not result in points, but they do raise the decibel level inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and awaken chants of “DEFENSE!”
- THE DEFLECTION: Following a defensive stop – its fifth consecutive stop in the last 1:57 of play – the ball is in Durant’s hands near the sideline. He spots an open Jackson, but the pass is deflected by Crawford. Jackson corrals the loose ball and beats Paul to the lane for an easy basket, pulling the Thunder to 101-97.
- THE SWITCH: Westbrook has put the Thunder up one, 105-104, with his three free throws and the Clippers call time out with 6.4 seconds remaining. Barnes gets the inbounds pass to Paul, who dribbles his way into the lane.
A screen is set on Jackson, but Ibaka jumps out and makes the switch. He plays it beautifully, not allowing Paul to drive to the rim or pull up for a short jumper. Meantime, Jackson digs down from the corner and takes a stab at the ball, which is knocked loose from Paul’s hands and is scooped up immediately by Ibaka as time runs out.
“Ibaka, just a great job on the switch,“ Kerr says. “Jackson gets a hand in there, but because of Ibaka’s presence, Paul just couldn’t pick up his dribble and get a shot, nor could he get to the rim.”