Down two games to one and 22 points, Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers refused to give up.
They battled to get back into the game, but regardless of how hard their relentless point guard tried, they still found themselves trailing by 16 points with about nine minutes remaining in their game. Those final nine minutes and 19 seconds in Game 4 would forever change the series.
If the Clippers had continued on the track laid out for them, the Oklahoma City Thunder would have three attempts to get one win, and two of those three contests would be played in the deafening environment of the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
As much as the Thunder crumbled down the stretch in Game 4, the Clippers quite literally snatched Sunday's game away from the Thunder by ripping the ball away and creating turnovers that led to quick baskets in transition.
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On Tuesday, the Clippers are back in Oklahoma City for Game 5 with the series tied at 2-2.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder are back at home, which means little at this point. During the season, Durant and company only dropped seven games in Oklahoma City--tied with the Clippers for second-best home record in the NBA.
During the playoffs, however, Durant and the Thunder have been anything but reliable in front of their home fans. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Oklahoma City has lost three of its six home games. In the series opener against the Clippers, Paul pulled out a flame thrower and set fire to the building, resulting in a 17-point on-sided victory for LA.
Sure, the Clippers can win on Tuesday, and the recipe for success is written in the fourth quarter comeback that is still fresh in both teams' minds.
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With the exception of the series opener, Durant and Westbrook have been nearly unstoppable. Even in that fourth quarter collapse, the Thunder’s two stars combined for 20 points on over 50 percent shooting from the field. However, former UCLA Bruin Darren Collison’s 12 points in the fourth quarter changed the dynamic of that game and the series. Regardless of whether he can do it again, the speedy point guard helped expose the Thunder’s weaknesses down the stretch.
First of all, Oklahoma City commits too many turnovers. Five of their sixteen turnovers came in that fourth quarter, and Durant was responsible for three of those crucial giveaways. Overall, the Clippers’ ability to force turnovers and run out for easy buckets resulted in 22 points off turnovers on the night--eight of which came in the fourth quarter.
Secondly, Oklahoma City has a tendency to rely on its two talented stars to a fault. In that fourth quarter collapse, the other five Thunder players who earned time on the floor combined for only five shots and a meager four points.
Seemingly every time down, the ball would stop with Durant or Westbrook. As a result, only two of the Thunder’s nine baskets in the fourth quarter were assisted, and one of those assists involved Westbrook feeding Durant.
In sharp contrast, the Clippers put together the 16-point fourth quarter comeback with seven assists on 14 made baskets. The assists hinted at the ball movement and balance, illustrated by four of the five Clippers on the closing unit scoring at least seven points in a fourth quarter to remember.
Perhaps most importantly, the Clippers only had one turnover in the final 12 minutes of Game 4.
Whether or not the Clippers can replicate that type of efficiency remains to be seen, but the ingredients required for a Game 5 road win were clearly labeled in that incredible fourth quarter: force Oklahoma City to be a two-man team; force turnovers that lead to transition baskets; take care of the basketball; and attack with ball movement and balance.
It may be a best of three series at this point, but momentum is on the Clippers' side.