GAMEDAY REPORT: CLIPPERS VS. THUNDER - GAME #6
Round 2, Game #6 | May 15, 2014
Staples Center | Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES – A season of franchise highs and tumultuous lows hung in the balance late into the Los Angeles night Thursday.
The Clippers, after another seemingly dominant first half, trailed by seven with 3:11 left, the Staples Center crowd, a sea of red shirts, was at full throat, anguishing over consecutive offensive fouls called against the home team with a chance to slice into Oklahoma City’s lead.
But the Clippers, who made a season of overcoming obstacles, could not manage one final comeback. The season of “destiny” as Matt Barnes called it earlier Thursday was suddenly over, halted in the Western Conference Semifinals as they fell to the Thunder, 104-98.
“The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, just watching our guys, it just felt like all this stuff we’ve gone through, they kind of released all of their emotions. That was tough.”
It was the second time in three seasons the Clippers, who set a franchise record with 57 wins in the regular season and finished with the NBA’s third best record (two games behind the Thunder), were ousted at home in the second round. But this time was different.
The Clippers fought through a seemingly never-ending series of off-the-court distractions and a controversial ending to Game 5 that could have had them in prime position to win the series Thursday.
“I feel like it could have been a very different series with just a couple small things,” Blake Griffin said. “[I’m] proud of how guys handled themselves throughout the season and also the Playoffs. [We] faced a lot of clutter. I thought we handled it well.”
They certainly did in the first half, taking an early 16-point lead and registering another supreme offensive showing. But they were outdone by a Thunder defense that held the Clippers to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half as well as league MVP Kevin Durant, who finished with 39 points, 16 rebounds and five assists and erased a 4-for-12 shooting start by finishing the game making eight of his last 11 shots.
Still, the Clippers, as expected, would not go quietly. They trailed by 11 with 2:27 to go and scored seven points in a row after Griffin was hit with his sixth foul. Griffin had 22 points, eight assists and eight rebounds in 40 minutes.
J.J. Redick nailed a jumper, Chris Paul, who had 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, converted a 3-point play and Matt Barnes knocked down a tough runner making it 97-93. But Russell Westbrook curtailed the Clippers desperate push with a pair of free throws and Redick missed a runner with 25 seconds to go that essentially ended Game 6 and the Clippers’ season.
Redick scored 16 points, but was the only Clippers player in double-figures other than Griffin and Paul.
In the early going the Clippers looked well on their way to sending the series back to Oklahoma.
But despite a hot start, it was a first half that left the Clippers wanting. They led by eight after putting on another stellar all-around performance. But it felt like they should have earned a larger advantage, a lead worthy of their start.
But seven missed foul shots by L.A. and six straight points by the Thunder made it just 50-42.
“We were down eight,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. “Everybody had to chip in. I said, ‘Just keep plugging away, multiple effort every possession, keep playing with the pass and finding offense through our team.’ I thought they did a good job of being patient, being disciplined and playing for one another in that second half.”
The Thunder, who led 1-0 and not again until the fourth quarter, tied the game at 72 by closing the third on a 7-0 run, capped by 3-pointer from the left corner by Nick Collison.
Westbrook, who did not make his first field goal until the 3:47 mark of the third quarter, broke the tie four possessions into the fourth quarter with a pull-up bank shot. The teams exchanged baskets, alternating between an Oklahoma City lead and tie.
But the Thunder tightened up defensively and the Clippers stopped getting to the foul line. A large foul and field goal disparity began shifting. It was as though they had traded places.
Westbrook got going and Durant made eight of his nine shots to start the second half, including a 3-pointer midway through the fourth to put the Thunder up seven. He assisted on a 3-pointer by Reggie Jackson a possession later, giving Oklahoma City its first double-digit lead since Game 4.
And it was enough to send the Clippers into the summer wondering what could have been.
“You don’t get a chance to be on a team like this that often,” Paul said. “We had a really, really good team, a great team. Before the game Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, ‘It’s crazy, you play all season long and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play.’ And it’s crazy that it’s over.”
The Clippers are 6-7 when facing elimination in Playoffs since moving to Los Angeles… The Clippers assisted on 17 of their first 18 baskets, including 12 in a row to start the game… Serge Ibaka left the game with 7:24 left in the third quarter with a strained left calf and did not return… Jack Nicholson, Bubba Watson, Rihanna, and Tony Romo were among those in attendance… Hedo Turkoglu (back) sat out for the eighth game in a row… Rookie Steven Adams had 10 points and 11 rebounds… DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds…
COACH DOC RIVERS
COACH RIVERS: I'd like to congratulate Scottie Brooks and Oklahoma City. I thought they did a terrific job throughout this series. Thought they made shots, big shots down the stretch of a lot of games. You just have to give them credit.
It was a very close series. I thought the teams were very evenly matched. You know, they stepped up and won two very good games, very winnable games by us.
On our end, we've gone through a lot of stuff over the last three or four weeks. I don't think that was why we didn't win. I don't think we should use that as an excuse.
I thought, you know, for us, we're a team in process. I believe we were good enough to win it this year. Oklahoma City told us we were not. So we have to do more. I think this was a great learning tool for us, even all the stuff.
I thought obviously it's nothing that anybody wants to go through, nothing I want to go through. Overall I thought our fan base and I thought the city and I thought our guys really hung in there.
Very proud of them. The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way. You know, just watching our guys, it just felt like all this stuff that they've gone through, they kind of released all their emotions. That was tough. That was tough to see for me as one of their leaders. Wish I could have done more for them.
So let's open it up to questions.
Q. Considering the uncertainty of the future, how different was what you had to say to those guys tonight compared to other situations?
COACH RIVERS: Not different at all. I told them we were going to win it together. It was my job to try to make us better. But we have a great core. I told them we're going to have our day. This is not the end; this is the beginning for us.
Q. Reading into that, does that mean you will be back?
COACH RIVERS: Like I've said before, I'm under contract. I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know.
Q. You go into the fourth quarter tied. What happened in the final 12 minutes?
COACH RIVERS: We missed a lot of shots. They made a lot of shots. The old adage it's a make/miss league, that came true tonight. We lost Durant three times which shouldn't have happened, but it did.
I personally thought at halftime we never got our energy back. I don't think it was the fourth quarter. To me in the fourth quarter they had cut the lead. It was the third quarter to me that changed the game. Even the second half of the second quarter, they got back into the game.
I thought we came out with a lot of emotion to start the game. Didn't know if I really liked it, to be honest. You know, I turned to one of my coaches and said, I don't know if I liking this because we better not hit a wall. It felt like towards the end of the second quarter we never got our energy back to the way we played for the first quarter and a half.
We tried. That's all you can do.
Q. If Serge Ibaka is healthy, is Oklahoma City good enough to win it, it wouldn't be a surprise to you at all?
COACH RIVERS: Yeah, I thought the west is good enough to win it. All eight teams. I'm not joking. Not taking anything away from the east teams. Miami is the champion until somebody beats them, all right? They're going to be a tough out.
Indiana to me is going to be hard for Miami. I think people have been on them before the year, they wanted home court in the Eastern Conference Finals, they have it. But I just think the two teams in the west are very good. Pop and what he's done with his team, they basically got off the mat.
They had a winnable game in Game 6, lost it, they've recovered. They're better, they're healthy. I personally think they're on a mission.
But I think without Serge, they need Serge obviously, Oklahoma, they have the guy named Durant and Westbrook, it gives them a fighting chance.
Q. You talk about emotions and Chris Paul. How do you feel for him?
COACH RIVERS: It's just this time, as far as I'm concerned. I don't look at another time for him. This is his first time. I don't look at it as another time for them. Got out of the first round, advanced. We had a chance in this series clearly.
I just feel awful for him. Just point-blank, I do. He's the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken. He's going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year, you know. But he'll be back. He'll be ready. He'll be better next year.
He knows me now. He knows our system now. And I think all our guys do. So he'll be off and running. He has a great family. He has great teammates. So there's a lot of people around him. I just feel bad for him because he's the guy that always puts everything on his shoulders, and I'm sure he will this summer.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH RIVERS: Yeah, he took it hard. He took it very hard.
Q. Throughout this entire saga, I've talked to many analysts, former players, coaches, they said that you were the right coach to carry the team through this brouhaha. What do you make about that?
COACH RIVERS: I've said this before, and I'm not trying to show humility or anything like that.
I think any coach in this system would have been the right coach, the right man. I just think you had to be. It's not like we had a choice in it. None of us was chosen for this. None of us signed on for this. But this is what happened.
The way I looked at it, it was my job to do everything that I thought was right. I guarantee I made a lot of mistakes in this, as well. I still wish I could have protected the guys more. There was a lot of stuff.
Q. How tough was it with frustration late in the game?
COACH RIVERS: Just keep fighting. No victims. I kept telling our guys, Don't worry. One timeout they were complaining about calls. Listen, I've only won once. I got there another time. Both times, if I've learned anything, it's hard to win. It's just hard. It is. Everything has to go right.
A lot of stuff went wrong for us throughout this, and we just kept going. So that's the lesson for us. You have to embrace how hard it is. You have to actually enjoy how hard it is. And whoever wins it is going to say that.
For us, I thought that was growth for us at least. I think they understood. I don't know if we got that until the playoffs started. That's why when I told the guys before, You grow during the playoffs. Don't think you don't grow and come together.
I think we start coming together, time ran out. It did. I felt like we were really close to, you know -- you hear like coaches say, like I was around Coach K a lot, Duke basketball. You know exactly what Duke basketball is because he's been there forever. Early in the year I heard 'Clipper basketball,' I was like, What the hell is that? We're trying to figure out what that is.
I thought during this playoff series, we start figuring out exactly like what Clipper basketball is and will be. I just kept thinking, Man, if we can get through a couple more games, we're there. You can feel it. And time ran out. That's the tough part.
Q. In the last couple hours it's come out through Mr. Sterling's attorney he doesn't intend to pay the two-and-a-half-million-dollar fine.
COACH RIVERS: I'm not paying my $25,000 either (laughter).
Q. He's implied the league should prepare itself for a legal battle. If this is a prolonged issue, what is your reaction to that? How is that going to impact your ability to rebuild this roster in the off-season, people to come here and play?
COACH RIVERS: I don't know is the answer on all of the above. I think I'm prepared for somewhat of a messy summer, mentally at least. I just think it's going that way.
I have a ton of faith in our league that we'll try to get it straight. But we'll see.
As far as how it affects us in bringing others in, I don't even know the answer to that. I just have a lot of faith. We don't have to do a lot. That's the good news. Our roster is pretty good. So that's like a saving grace for us this summer. Thank gosh we don't have six or seven free agents. We don't have that, so I think that helps.
But we'll see how it goes. I'll see how it goes.
Q. Do you feel like the Sterling saga dragged on your team mentally tonight?
COACH RIVERS: I think a lot of stuff, yeah. You know, I know I'm tired. I can tell you that. I'm going to go somewhere and, first of all, lose some weight. I feel like I gained 40 pounds in this thing.
You know, that's what I was saying earlier. That's what I was really trying to do throughout this, is try to like bridge, felt like I had to try to protect our guys.
The playoffs are hard enough without any of this stuff, so...
But I want to give the respect to like Oklahoma. They beat us, you know. I don't want us to use -- we just can't be that. Sure, it played a part, somewhat. It had to, all right? But Oklahoma beat us fair and square. We just have to learn from that.
I think all of us will learn from all of this, you know, so...
Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
CLIPPERS CENTER DEANDRE JORDAN
RE: Turning point in the second half
“They made a run in the third quarter, kind of had a lapse on defense and you know, they got the lead and it was big. It was hard for us to comeback.”
RE: Pace of the game
“We couldn’t have pace and run like we wanted to. They were scoring every time and it was tough but they hit tough shots.”
RE: Doc Rivers’ comments after the game
“For us to keep fighting and we’ll be back next year but it was tough for us to end the season like this at home but we got a lot of work to do.”
RE: Emotional rollercoaster
“Just another thing we have to do, that’s all. Everybody goes through their ups and downs in the season but like Doc [Rivers] said, not envy the victim and all of that. So take it into play and be professional and be ready for next year.”
CLIPPERS GUARD J.J. REDICK
RE: Thoughts of the overall season
“I think we’ll have good memories of being together as a group but ultimately just disappointment. We fell short of what we were hoping to accomplish.”
RE: Turning point in the game
“I don’t want like not give them [OKC] credit but I really do think we got away from what got us the lead. You know, offensively I think we got a little stagnant and they we stopped getting stops, we stopped trusting. We talked about it at halftime we have to play the same way in the second half defensively and gave up 62 points; it’s just not good enough.”
CLIPPERS FORWARD BLAKE GRIFFIN
RE: How emotional you were. Now that it's over, what are you feeling and thinking?
“Disappointed. I feel like it could have been a very different series, you know, with just a couple small things.
But, you know, proud of how guys handled themselves throughout this season and also the playoffs. Faced a lot of clutter. I thought we handled it well.”
RE: Doc indicated that you seemed spent in the second half. It seemed like Oklahoma City came out just the opposite to begin the second. Was that the case? Was it a matter of being drained through all this mess?
“I don't know. I mean, I thought we just got stagnant. They came out and executed. I don't know if it was energy, I don't know. We just didn't execute. We just kind of got away from what made us successful.”
CLIPPERS POINT GUARD CHRIS PAUL
“Yeah, it's tough. It's tough. You don't get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know. Oklahoma City absolutely deserves it.
We had a really, really good team, a great team. Before the game Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, it's crazy, you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play. And it's crazy that it's over.
Man, we really do have a great team, collective group of players, not just me and Blake, me, Blake and D.J. It's tough to realize that it's over again.”
RE: Chris, going into next season, does it put any more pressure on you to get out of the second round in your preparation o f f - se a so n ?
“I'm going to prepare every off-season like I always do. This ain't tennis. It ain't just me. We don't play one-on-one.
It's not just to get out of the second round, it's to win a championship. I don't know anybody in our league that plays for the finals, for the Western Conference Finals. That's not enough.”
RE: Back-to-back games, you had double-digit leads. Did you see any similarities in those games as far as execution?
“We definitely got to execute better. Our defense needed to be better.
But that's a good team over there. KD and Russ are tough enough to guard as it is. When they start living on the free-throw line...
I had a big part to do with us losing Game 5, you know. Tonight and last game, those two shot more free throws than our whole team. It gets tough when they're putting them on the line every time.”
COACH SCOTT BROOKS
COACH BROOKS: I thought tonight's game was something that we've done all year. We've all stuck together and found ways to win. We weren't making a lot of shots. Kevin and Russell didn't have a good first half, but they competed. The other guys stepped in, held down the fort, and made it a respectable deficit we had to overcome, eight points.
Second half, they got hot. We've been a very good offensive team all year, high-percentage shooting team. I thought our shots were much better in that fourth quarter.
Q. What did you say to the players in the second half to keep them focused?
COACH BROOKS: The first thing I said, I loved the position we were at, only down eight. I don't know the exact numbers. Kevin and Russell, they were 1 for 11 or 12. We were down eight. Everybody had to chip in. I said, Just keep plugging away. Multiple effort every possession. Keep playing with the pass and finding offense through our team.
I thought they did a good job of being patient, being disciplined and playing for one another in that second half at a high level.
Q. Can you give us an update on Serge. Do you believe it was the experience that led to some poise down the stretch you had this time around?
COACH BROOKS: Well, we were only two days younger in Game 4. We had some experience back then (smiling).
I thought Nick stepped up. Crazy thing is Nick has taken a thousand shots from the corner, from the three-point line, and hasn't had many opportunities this season. But I thought that was a big bucket. That was a big bucket. I love the fact that we trusted him.
We see him every day work. It's nice that our guys rewarded him with a nice, clean pass and a belief he was going to make that shot.
We've been good all year. We knew going into the first series, it was going to be tough. We knew going into this series, it was going to be tough. Can I tell you guys something? Next series is going to be tough.
NBA playoffs. We're all fighting for one thing. It's important to us.
Serge, I don't know yet. I looked at him said, Are you all right? Serge and I, sometimes we talk with our hands. He said this (motioning). We won't know till tomorrow.
Q. The Clippers had success for five straight quarters. What changed in the second quarter for you defensively?
COACH BROOKS: We just had to keep playing. The thing is that people forget -- I don't know if they forget, they don't acknowledge it enough, they're a very good offensive basketball team. They have shooters all over the floor. They have one of the best point guards of manipulating the game and ball screens. They have two rollers that can finish a thousand feet above the rim.
The only way to guard them is do it every time. You can't relax and you can't worry about the last play if they did score.
We tell our guys, Reboot the computer every time down the court. Don't worry about the last play. Stay in the moment.
Q. You staged back-to-back double-digit comebacks to finish off the series. What does that say about your team?
COACH BROOKS: We have good leadership. Russell and Kevin have led us for a lot of years. We've never talked about not being able to lead at a young age because they've been leading this team for five or six years. They lead and our guys do a great job of supporting them, helping them, putting them in positions for all of us to have success. The unsung heroes on our team are our bigs. I say it all the time, I'll continue to say it, they set screens, do a lot of things to put us in position to win a lot of basketball games. We won a lot of games this year because of our bigs competing and putting us in position to have success.
Q. Can you expound on Kevin and Russell. Kevin found his stroke and Russell did it a completely different way tonight versus the last game.
COACH BROOKS: I thought Russell was solid. He didn't have a good shooting night. He had 12 assists and a lot of free throws because he was attacking.
Kevin got hot in the second half. Our bigs did a good job of setting him up. Give Kevin credit. He did a good job of getting low, not letting them hold him, not letting them get away with that. He was trying to get separation from their hands. I thought he did a good job in the second half. Russell did a good job of finding him on time and on target.
Q. Are you in a transition into playing the Spurs? Their bench is going to cause some issues. How do you plan on adjusting to their bench?
COACH BROOKS: Thanks for letting me enjoy this win. I'm already worried about Tony Parker and their great players.
You have to guard them. Good thing about it, they're only allowed to play five at the same time. We are, too. Both teams are really good. Both teams play hard. Both teams have great experience. So it's going to be a great series.
Q. Talk about what did it mean winning that last game, Game 5, at home and the momentum you gathered and brought in here?
COACH BROOKS: The good thing about the Game 5 win was we missed an opportunity in Game 4. The series was very unique in that way. Both teams blew an opportunity to close out a game. Both teams beat each other pretty bad one game.
I thought tonight's game was one of our best executed games from both sides of the ball. But knowing how Doc prepares, we knew we were going to have to figure out some things as this series went along. I thought we did that.
Q. You mentioned the unsung heroes, your bigs. I know you don't care about perception from the outside. But do you believe you're misunderstood as some sort of two-man show without any set offense or anything really of substance going on other than those two guys?
COACH BROOKS: You know, we really don't worry about what they say about our offense, this and that. We were third in the league in scoring, and third in field goal percentage. I think that's been three consecutive years.
We had a bad six or seven minutes in Game 4. The Clippers had a bad three minutes in Game 5, and I think they led the league in scoring. That happens.
We don't get down on what people say about us. We're focused. We know that we're not a perfect team. We don't claim to be. We don't tell the world, Look at us. We just play basketball. We play it as hard as we can. We try to play with very limited mistakes. What we do try to do is play with effort every time. Russell is an effort players. He's a winner and he plays hard. Kevin is the same. Down the line, Nick, Fish, CB, Perk, the whole team.
We've built this organization doing that every day. We tell you what we do and we're not trying to trick you guys.
Thanks. You guys have a good night. Appreciate it.
What a turn of events.
The Clippers were mere seconds away from coming home with a chance to close out the Thunder and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Instead, they take on the Thunder in Game 6 at Staples Center with their season in the balance.
After a stunning eight-point turnaround in the final 49.2 seconds of Game 5, the Clippers know they blew a significant opportunity.
“Obviously, one got away from us,” Chris Paul said. “But we’ve got an opportunity to get it back [in Game 6].”
When Doc Rivers met with the media following Game 5, he was emphatic that the Clippers, who trail 3-2 in the series, have two games left to play. To ensure that they advance to a Game 7 Sunday in Oklahoma City, they have to win at home.
“It’s a tough blow,” Matt Barnes said of the Game 5 loss. “It’s a very tough blow, but we’re still alive. We’ve got to go home and try to take care of business on Thursday and try to come back to OKC on Sunday.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Paul getting past it. Arguably no player took the Game 5 loss harder than Paul. He was sullen in his postgame press conference and slammed his hand against the door to the interview room as he walking out of the arena. A day later prior to practice, Paul was still clearly upset by the way the game unfolded.
“There are a lot of guys’ livelihoods that depend on this and I’ve got to do my part,” said Paul, referencing two turnovers and foul that he committed in the final 17 seconds of Game 5.
Still, Paul has had a magnificent series. He’s averaging 22.0 points, 12.2 assists and 2.8 steals, while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s tallied a double-double in each of the five games and helped slow down Kevin Durant in the Clippers’ Game 4 comeback win.
2. Keep him out of the paint. Russell Westbrook is 28-for-48 (58.3 percent) on shots in the restricted area in five games against the Clippers. By comparison, Blake Griffin is 28-for-53 (52.8 percent) at the same spot on the floor. Obviously, Westbrook’s paint points most come off the dribble, which is something Rivers lamented earlier in the series when he said the Clippers must improve at controlling the ball. In five games, Westbrook is averaging 29.6 points, including scoring 38 in Game 5, with 6.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists. He’s scored at least 27 points four times and shot 50 percent or better from the field in each of the first three games.
3. Keeping up the movement. Despite losing Game 5, the Clippers offense, according to Rivers and Paul, was at its best through the first 43 minutes or so. They scored seemingly at will and had 34 points in the first quarter with eight assists on 12 field goals. Forty-eight hours later, revisiting what worked in Game 5 could be beneficial. The only difference, said Rivers, is maintaining that through the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Clippers are 6-6 in 12 games they have been facing elimination since moving to Los Angeles… Game 5 was the first time in the series the Thunder won without more than three players scoring in double figures… The Clippers are 72-19 at home since the start of 2012-13, but are just 4-2 there in the 2014 Playoffs… Durant, Westbrook and Griffin are three of the top eight scorers in the postseason… The Clippers last won a Game 6 in 2006 when they beat the Suns, 118-106, at Staples Center to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals…
LAC: Hedo Turkoglu (back) is out.
OKC: None reported.
THE LAST WORD
Blake Griffin: “The sting from [Game 5], I think we need to feel that, but at the same time we need to get over it and our focus needs to be on winning Game 6.”
PLAYOFF SERIES RECAP
Game 1: May 5, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Clippers 122, Thunder 105
Game 2: May 7, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Thunder 112, Clippers 101
Game 3: May 9, 2014 at Staples Center: Thunder 118, Clippers 112
Game 4: May 11, 2014 at Staples Center: Clippers 101, Thunder 99
Game 5: May 13, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Thunder 105, Clippers 104
Game 6: May 15, 2014 at Staples Center
Game 7*: May 18, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena