Below are five things to take from the Clippers’ 101-99 Game 4 victory Sunday over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center (The series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 set for Tuesday in Oklahoma City. Game 6 will take place on Thursday at Staples Center).
1. Final moments Great comeback by the Clippers. Terrible choke job by the Thunder. The Clippers once trailed by as many as 19 points, shot 25 percent in the first quarter and made a playoff game appear like an ordinary regular season game in mid January.
But no matter.
The Clippers delivered with Darren Collison scoring 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Despite nursing five fouls, Blake Griffin scored 10 points of his team-high 25 points in the final period. Despite playing a team-high 45 minutes, Chris Paul posted 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. The Clippers converted on 18 of their last 19 offensive possessions.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City choked in every way imaginable.
Despite dropping a team-high 40 points on 12 of 24 shooting, Thunder forward Kevin Durant received half as many fourth-quarter attempts (five) as Russell Westbrook (10). Despite missing five consecutive shots, Westbrook kept looking for his shot. The Thunder allowed the Clippers then to dominate in points in the paint (24), fast-break points (12) and shooting (63.6 percent)
2. The Clippers did not come ready to play. The Clippers nearly tabbed this game as a must-win, but they stepped on the court acting like they were playing in mid-January. The Clippers talked about fixing up coverages defending the pick-and-roll and in the paint, and then ignored their own advice. Clippers fans furiously waived towels to rally the team, but those white towels provided the perfect symbolism that this team appeared to have given up.
Say what you will about the Clippers just opening with a poor shooting performance by missing nine of their first 15 shots. Credit the Thunder for nailing its first seven shots, preventing the Clippers from grabbing a rebound until the 6:22 mark in the first quarter. But the Clippers also did not look engaged in the game. They lacked energy to keep pace with the speedy Thunder. The Clippers lacked grit in competing on the boards to make up for their poor shooting stroke. And the fans lacked zero buzz during a game that will largely dictate the series’ fortunes. Sure, the Clippers still chipped away at their deficit with two runs in the second quarter (12-1) and fourth quarter (23-8). But the Clippers’ inexcusable slow start nearly cost them both the game and perhaps the series.
3. Blake Griffin experienced an up-and-down game.
OK, so Serge Ibaka delivered a cheap shot on the opening possession when he hit Griffin in his private area. But the Thunder also limited Griffin in other ways. The Thunder opened the game double teaming Griffin, who missed his first five field goal attempts. He also picked up his fifth foul with 3:40 left in the third quarter. But no matter. Griffin’s 25 points on 8 of 19 shooting and nine rebounds revealed his wilingness to play through initial frustrations that included physical play and a shaky mid-range jumper.
4. The Clippers struggled on the perimeter. A huge part of the team’s struggles entailed their 3 of 21 mark from three-point range (14.3 percent). The most egregious offenders entail Matt Barnes (0 of 4) and J.J. Redick (1 of 3) and Paul (0 of 4). As much as the Clippers manage to win despite such terrible outside shooting, that puts way too much pressure on the Clippers to score inside and for the Thunder to self-implode.
5. Some heavy hitters attended the Clippers-Thunder game. After vowing never to return to a Clippers game so long as Donald Sterling owned the team, Magic Johnson suddenly changed his mind. After making a presence by issuing Donald Sterling a life-time ban for making racially disparaging remarks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver provided physical presence by sitting at his first Clippers game since making the lauded decision. After being linked as potential members of a Clippers ownership group, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and boxer Floyd Mayweather soaked in the crowd. After being derided for the past year for numerous drag racing incidents, pop star Justin Bieber sat courtside and sparked as much rejection from Clipper fans as later in the third quarter when DeAndre Jordan swatted Nick Collison’s three-point attempt five rows into the stands.
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