Game 5 is often considered to be the pivotal point in any NBA playoff series, and if that is true for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team from middle America will be in great shape. In another hotly contested match-up, the Clippers were able to hold a lead throughout the night, but in the end, the Thunder mounted an insane late charge to escape with a 105-104 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
The first half represented another back and forth affair in this particular series, with the Clippers leading the way early with a 9-point cushion and Oklahoma City responding. The Thunder began the second quarter with a trio of three-pointers in the first four minutes of the period, and with that push to help them, Oklahoma City regained the lead at 39-38 with Chris Paul on the sidelines.
Once Paul returned, however, the Clippers were able to regain control of the proceedings, and that was one of the themes before halftime. Paul and shooting guard JJ Redick (who scored 13 points and connected three times from downtown in the half) were +16 and +19 respectively in the half, and the Thunder couldn’t solve LA’s riddle with that backcourt on the floor. The Thunder were able to stay within six points at the break, but they needed 25 (!!) free throws to get there (making 22 of them) and the duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got off to a slow start.
After the break, the biggest headline was an explosion of offense from Russell Westbrook (14 points in 3rd quarter, 23 in second half) but for most of the half, it didn’t seem like it would be nearly enough. Los Angeles was keenly efficient throughout the second half, never losing the lead, and when they spurted to an 11-0 run to grab a 101-88 lead with 4:13 to go, the Clippers had built a seemingly insurmountable advantage. However, the Thunder would charge hard to close the deficit, and when Russell Westbrook was fouled by Chris Paul (completing a barrage of “interesting” officiating decisions), OKC took the lead at 105-104 with 6.4 seconds to play before Chris Paul turned the ball over on the game’s final possession.
On a night where the aforementioned Russell Westbrook had an explosive performance (38 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals), NBA MVP Kevin Durant struggled mightily throughout. Oklahoma City’s go-to guy finished the night having converted just 6 of his 22 field goal attempts in route to 27 points and even a late push couldn’t fully salvage him after a hideous, 3-for-17 start. Still, his 27 points and 10 rebounds isn’t exactly a “disastrous” outcome, and OKC made enough plays to combat it. On the Clippers side, Blake Griffin did the majority of his damage early (21 of his 24 points in the first 30 minutes of clock time) but he was very effective, and Chris Paul added a typical performance with 17 points, 14 assists and 4 steals before his well-documented issues in the game’s final minutes.
The Thunder are now firmly in the driver’s seat as they hold a 3-2 advantage with Game 6 looming in the Staples Center, but this series is far from over. One lights-out effort from the Clippers at home could change everything, but the momentum has clearly shifted to Oklahoma City.