Posts Tagged ‘Kendrick Perkins’

24–Second thoughts — May 21

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Danny Green and the Spurs raised the roof on the Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Spurs Way is real.

It’s a quantifiable force and can be seen on the tread marks all over the Oklahoma City Thunder after the first two games of these Western Conference finals.

From Danny Green making it rain from deep to the 3,000 points in the paint the Spurs have piled up in Serge Ibaka‘s absence, oh yes, the Spurs Way is live and in living color.

Whatever adjustments the Thunder made after watching the Game 1 slasher flick/film (they did watch it, right?) didn’t provide any insight on what could be done differently to fix all that has gone wrong for Scott Brooks and his team.

And before anyone reminds me that these two teams were in this same situation two years ago, when the Thunder stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to win four straight and advance to The Finals, remember that neither Ibaka nor James Harden (who was huge in that series two years ago) are walking through the door for Game 3 in Oklahoma City on Sunday.

So it’s your move Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

How do you respond to the worst playoff loss in Thunder franchise history?

:1

Serge still believes!

:2

There is no greater testament to the Spurs’ greatness in this series than their ability to make sure everyone, even folks out around these parts, gets a decent night’s sleep!

(more…)

Can Sefolosha get his corner 3 back?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: What must OKC change in Game 2?

SAN ANTONIO – This is a contract season for Thabo Sefolosha, but you wouldn’t know it from his statistics. The veteran shooting guard is a defensive specialist, but he’s also been a dangerous and necessary corner 3-point shooter for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Only his accuracy has mostly gone MIA this season.

He shot just 31.6 percent from beyond the arc after consecutive seasons of shooting better than 40 percent. His slide has continued into the postseason — 28.6 percent — and it’s led to erratic minutes and even sitting out the entirety of Games 6 and 7 in the first round against the Memphis Grizzlies when coach Scott Brooks instead inserted Caron Butler in the starting lineup to help space the floor.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals and the San Antonio Spurs, Sefolosha played just 16 minutes and after missing his first three jumpers and being yanked midway through the first quarter, he sat for the remainder of the first half.

Sefolosha expressed frustration with his limited playing time after the game. On Tuesday he took a less opinionated tact.

“I don’t really want to talk on it. It’s coach’s decision,” Sefolosha said. “When I’m on court I’m going to play and when I’m not I’m going to cheer for the guys. You know, it’s part of the game.”

The Thunder need Sefolosha’s offense more now than ever with third-leading scorer Serge Ibaka shelved presumably for the remainder of the playoffs with a calf injury. With Nick Collison replacing Ibaka, the Thunder suddenly start three low-scoring offensive players in Sefolosha, Collison and center Kendrick Perkins.

In Game 1, those three combined to go 2-for-10 from the floor for five points, all scored by Perkins. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant accounted for 53 of 58 points scored by the starting lineup.

Sefolosha’s corner 3s have always come off kickouts from Westbrook and Durant penetrations as defenses collapse. The benefit to the Thunder’s offense when Sefolosha hits 40 percent from the arc is obvious. During the regular season, 56 percent of Sefolosha’s 3-point attempt came from the corners as did 60 percent of his makes.

He’s just 3-for-9 from the corners in the playoffs.

The Spurs forced Sefolosha off the 3-point arc altogether. He ducked under defenders following a shot fake and badly missed on this first three mid-range in the first quarter. Nearly 44 percent of Sefolosha’s shot attempts this postseason have been 3s, but he managed just one on four shot attempts in Game 1.

“If the 3 is open, I definitely would rather take the 3,” Sefolosha said. “But they did a decent job getting us off the line.”

Collison offers hope for Ibaka-less OKC

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: What must OKC change in Game 2?

SAN ANTONIO – Nick Collison is a naturally unassuming kind of guy. He grabs his lunch pail, goes off to work every day and earns his dollar.

Work conditions, however, have dramatically changed, and Collison is now at the center of a dilemma that threatens to unravel the Oklahoma City Thunder’s title hopes. Somehow he and his teammates must find a way to make life much more uncomfortable for the San Antonio Spurs’ offense without high-riser Serge Ibaka patrolling the paint.

Collison, the 6-foot-9, 33-year-old backup who had only averaged 11.6 mpg during the first two rounds of the playoffs and logged single-digit minutes in seven of the eight previous games heading into Monday’s opener of the Western Conference finals, is suddenly thrust into Ibaka’s starting job.

As everybody knows by now, the Spurs clobbered OKC with an alarming 66 points in the paint. Tim Duncan maneuvered unmolested inside for easy buckets that led to 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting in the first half — 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first quarter.

“We want to make it hard for them to make all their cuts and their passes,” said Collison, who received a half-dozen stitches in his lip after Game 1 and visited a dentist Tuesday morning to examine a tooth he thought might have been jarred from its root, but was not.

“They’re really good when they’re running through their offense and the ball is flying around and guys are wide open,” Collison continued. “We want to be able to throw their timing off a little bit, and some of that is physicality, but a lot of it is getting back and start playing at the beginning of a possession instead of being back on our heels and letting them run where they want to run.”

Collison only played 16 minutes in Game 1 and was scoreless with three rebounds, but there’s a belief that his more engaged, defensive effort during the Thunder’s impressive eight-minute stretch of the third quarter when they defended the paint as a team with more authority and twice seized a one-point lead, can carry over to Game 2.

“Our effort, intensity on the defensive end was really good,” Kevin Durant said. “We scrambled out, we made efforts, we rebounded the basketball, we attacked,” Durant said.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks experimented with multiple small-ball lineups in Game 1, but was burned badly defensively. One option in Game 2 is stay bigger and ride Collison as long as possible alongside starting center Kendrick Perkins and backup center Steven Adams.

“It’s hard for a coach to know what to do, especially with one of our starters being out, not knowing who to throw into the game, what lineups to use,” Durant said. “So you got to take that into account. He’s a great coach and he does learn from game to game, and knowing who to put out there. We can play with any type of lineup. It all comes down to effort and energy and just having that mindset that we’re locked in every single possession.”

Expectation is that Collison will not only be back in the starting lineup, but that he’ll have a bigger piece of Game 2, with the first eight minutes of the third quarter being the blueprint.

“We’re capable of doing it, but have to be able do it longer,” Collison said. “What we saw in that third quarter, that needs to be how we play, that needs to be our new normal.”

Ibaka’s absence brings ‘fluid’ lineups

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO – The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing their best sales job to suggest life without Serge Ibaka has to be business as usual. In basketball parlance, it’s simply next man up.

But, with 11:09 left in the second quarter of Monday’s Western Conference finals Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder pulled out their most unusual lineup, especially for this juncture of the playoffs. Jeremy Lamb checked in for Kevin Durant, but the the little-used, second-year shooting guard getting such early run wasn’t the exceptional part. It was who he was running with: Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Steven Adams.

Kevin Durant will need some help in Game 2 (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kevin Durant will need some help in Wednesday’s Game 2 (9 p.m., TNT)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

“Our lineups can be very fluid and we have flexibility all year long to have done that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before Game 1. “We played small a lot and with Serge out, obviously we have more opportunities to play small.”

OKC climbed back from a 20-9 hole to 33-30 when Lamb came in for Durant. Exactly three minutes later, Lamb, whose head seemed to be on a swivel defensively as Spurs players raced by him to the bucket, checked out for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder trailed 45-37.

A small lineup that found success late in the second quarter was the unit of Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Kendrick Perkins. That group came together with 1:58 to go and OKC in big trouble, trailing 65-51. An 8-2 run trimmed the halftime deficit to a reasonable eight points, 67-59.

It’s a bad time of year to have to experiment with lineups. After the game, Brooks said he’s going to “have to find lineups that work.”

The Thunder’s best lineups are the ones in which Durant and Westbrook are on the floor together or, at least, with one of them in the lineup. And that’s mostly been the case. Durant logged 40 minutes in Game 1, the 13th time in 14 games this postseason in which he’s played at least 40 minutes, and the sixth in a row.

Brooks has to balance giving each of his stars some rest so they’re not totally gassed in the fourth quarter, but doing so while not putting the team at a severe disadvantage — which the Fisher-Jackson-Lamb-Butler-Adams group did.

There’s little choice for Brooks in deciding a starting lineup. Nick Collison is the only logical choice to fill in for Ibaka at power forward. Collison is a steadier player than the one that showed up Monday night and threw up three horribly off-target shots and was mostly poor defensively. A frontcourt of Perkins and Adams together doesn’t make much sense and Brooks clearly has little faith in 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet to contribute as a rim protector.

Although Brooks harped on defense after the game, his best bet might be to employ waves of small lineups that include Durant or Westbrook, or both, with Reggie Jackson and simply try to out-run and outscore the machine-like Spurs.

“I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job,” Brooks said. “No matter who we put on the floor, they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody.”

Thunder searching for Ibaka answer

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: OKC coach Scott Brooks talks about how Serge Ibaka’s absence impacted Game 1

SAN ANTONIO – Thunder coach Scott Brooks delivered a straightforward message to the San Antonio Spurs, some of whom apparently manifested visions of injured Oklahoma City power forward Serge Ibaka swooping into the arena and swatting shots as if he were Godzilla.

That, obviously, didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen.

“Contrary to what San Antonio was thinking, he’s not coming back,” Brooks said of Ibaka, who is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs, regardless of how deep the Thunder go. “He’s not coming through those doors.”

Ibaka wasn’t even in the building. He was back home, relegated to resting his damaged left calf muscle and watching Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on TV. Or at least as much of it as he could stand as the Spurs ran a layup drill through a wide-open paint in the opening half on their way to a 122-105 victory.

In the aftermath, maybe Brooks’ message was intended more for his own club. It is a horrible time to be without your chiseled, 6-foot-10 defensive eraser and offensive safety valve. Ibaka’s absence seemed to serve as a giant mind tease early on as the Thunder looked lost defensively in just their fourth game in four years without Ibaka.

“Your body tells you a few things, just send them Serge’s way,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “We have to get out of that mindset. Tonight’s the first night playing without him, so we have to figure a few things out.”

Tim Duncan was the beneficiary of an OKC starting lineup that included the considerably less-athletic Nick Collison playing in the 24-year-old Ibaka’s starting spot next to Kendrick Perkins. That lineup was a bust from the get-go on both ends. OKC tried to get Collison comfortable early, but he launched two hellacious bricks from either baseline on the Thunder’s opening few possessions.

The other end was a Texas massacre, save the bloody mess of a chainsaw for the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel for which the Spurs have become famous.

Duncan had 21 of his 27 points in the first half, going 9-for-11 from the floor, and 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the opening quarter. He had eight points in the first five minutes. His first bucket was an 18-footer. The eight baskets that followed in the first half came from no deeper than eight feet and four were no farther than 3-feet from the rim.

Imagine the 38-year-old Duncan’s delight to work against the Thunder’s 20-year-old rookie backup center Steven Adams, a mostly impressive youngster who saw just 17 minutes after logging 40 in the Game 6 clincher over the Clippers. He acknowledged he “screwed up” on pick-and-roll coverages and will have to be better.

The Spurs scored 66 of their points in the paint — 20 more than OKC typically gives up with Ibaka on the floor. They had 38 at halftime, more than the Thunder managed the entire game (32).

“Well, we play team defense, we don’t just rely on Serge,” said Kevin Durant, who had 28 points and found himself checking Duncan at different times. “He does a great job blocking shots, but it’s all because of our team defense.”

It wasn’t all a horror flick, and the first nine minutes of the third quarter is the example the Thunder will look to duplicate if they’re going to make this a series. It’s the only quarter that OKC held San Antonio below 30 points — 22 on 8-for-22 shooting. Combined with Russell Westbrook‘s accelerated aggressiveness to attack the rim, the Thunder, once trailing 63-48, led 78-77 after Durant’s 8-foot runner with 4:44 to go.

Brooks spent the first half experimenting with different lineups and twice had success in the first and second quarters with small-ball fivesomes. But as the Thunder plowed ahead in the third quarter with the original starting lineup, Brooks may have stuck with them just a bit too long.

In a flash, the lead was gone for good. Manu Ginobili got in the lane for a floater, Duncan tossed in another layup as Westbrook missed a couple tired-looking shots and turned it over.

But the defensive blue print is there, even if it emerged for only a small window of time in the opener. It was the only quarter the Thunder scored more fastbreak points than the Spurs because they were finally able to get into transition off missed shots and four of the Spurs’ 10 turnovers.

“We just got to do a better job of closing the paint off,” said Westbrook, who had 25 points, 12 in the third quarter, and seven assists. “We did a better job in the second half of just putting more pressure on them, making it tough for them to get inside the paint.”

Now they must figure out how to sustain it. Because everybody knows Ibaka isn’t walking through that door.

Numbers preview: Spurs-Thunder

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime: Western Conference Finals Analysis

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Though the Western Conference appeared to be wide open and stacked with nine strong teams, the two that are meeting in the conference finals are the two top seeds and the team that have represented the conference in last two Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs were the league’s best team this season and have home-court advantage. But they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 meetings with the Oklahoma City Thunder, going back to the 2012 conference finals, when OKC rebounded from an 0-2 deficit to win four straight.

It’s the Thunder’s length and athleticism that gives the Spurs fits. But OKC is down one long, athletic starter with Serge Ibaka out with a calf injury.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West, as well as the four games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Stats and rankings are for the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs (62-20)

Beat Dallas in 7 games.
Beat Portland in 5 games.
Pace: 96.3 (4)
OffRtg: 111.1 (2)
DefRtg: 101.2 (3)
NetRtg: +9.9 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Playoff notes:

Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)

Beat Memphis in 7 games.
Beat L.A. Clippers in 6 games.
Pace: 94.6 (6)
OffRtg: 107.9 (6)
DefRtg: 102.8 (5)
NetRtg: +5.2 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 4-0.
Pace: 96.9
SAS OffRtg: 99.1 (17th vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 110.2 (1st vs. SAS)

Matchup notes:

Thunder to soldier on without Ibaka

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: OKC’s Ibaka done for rest of playoffs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a significant injury blow to their title hopes Friday with power forward Serge Ibaka, one of the league’s premiere shot blockers, likely to miss the rest of the postseason with a Grade 2 strain of his left calf.

The Thunder opens the Western Conference finals Monday night on the road against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Ibaka limped off the Staples Center floor in the third quarter of Thursday’s series-clinching victory of the Los Angeles Clippers. He immediately headed to the locker room and did not return. An MRI exam on Friday revealed the strain.

Through the second round of the playoffs, Ibaka was averaging 12.2 ppg — shooting 61.6 percent from the floor (69-for-112) — plus 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 33.9 mpg. Monday’s game will be only the second time this season the Thunder will play without their 6-foot-10 paint protector.

“We are obviously disappointed for Serge, as he is a tremendous competitor,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “We know how badly he wants to be on the court with his teammates.”

It’s the second consecutive postseason that the Thunder has had to deal with a key season-ending injury. Last year point guard Russell Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee during the first round and Oklahoma City was bounced from the playoffs in the semifinals against Memphis.

Oklahoma City defeated the Spurs in the West finals in 2012, 4-2, after losing the first two games at San Antonio. Repeating that feat just became tougher.

Ibaka, 24, played 81 games during the regular season and recorded career-highs with averages of 15.1 ppg and 8.8 rpg while leading the league in total blocks for the fourth consecutive season with 219. He’s been as durable as they come, missing just two games over the last four regular and postseasons.

The loss throws a wrench into coach Scott Brooks‘ rotation. Veteran backup forward-center Nick Collison, whose minutes were limited in the Clippers series, is a candidate to start at forward alongside starting center Kendrick Perkins. More minutes will likely be available to emerging rookie backup center Steven Adams, who had monstrous Game 6 in Los Angeles with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. Little-used forward Perry Jones and center Hasheem Thabeet are also available to absorb spot minutes if needed.

Brooks could also employ a smaller lineup at times that has been successful in which Kevin Durant plays the power forward position, however pitting Durant defensively on Duncan might not be a strategy Brooks will want to use often.

“We’ve had this group together for quite a while,” Presti said. “We’ve been through some ups and downs and this one will only make us better.”

The Spurs are also dealing with an injury to a key player, although the left hamstring issue that hampered point guard Tony Parker in their series-clinching Game 5 against Portland does not appear to be serious. Parker said the Grade 1 strain will not keep him out of Game 1.

24-Second Thoughts — May 15

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — That’s right, the Hang Time Headquarters have been shut down for the evening. The brains behind your usual 24-Second Thoughts, my Hang Time Podcast co-host Sekou Smith, asked me yesterday if I would mind filling in for him tonight.

So here I am, parked on the couch, laptop on lap, games on the tube, Twitter tweeting away.

The Wizards and the Clippers had their backs to the wall tonight, and both were at home. Would they use the home court advantage? Could either squad force a Game 7?

24 — Before we get to the games, check out Andrew Wiggins getting ready for the pre-Draft combine in Chicago. I believe these are called hops…

23 — In the phone booth for Game 6? Both Wale and Robert Griffin III

And Wale did his part to try and help the home team later…

22 — The Pacers got off to a great start, particularly Lance Stephenson

21 — For some reason, even playing at home (where, admittedly, they’ve struggled in the postseason, the Wizards just couldn’t seem to find their groove…)

https://twitter.com/MrMichaelLee/status/467106300317274114 (more…)

Controlling emotions huge key to Game 6

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Temperature is rising as Thunder and Clippers meet for Game 6

LOS ANGELES — A heat wave is cooking Southern California — 95 degrees out here in the land of palm trees. But inside the Staples Center tonight is where things could really boil over.

This Western Conference semifinal series has already seen earth-rattling events from natural wonders (Chris Paul knocking down eight 3s in Game 1; Russell Westbrook‘s Game 2 triple-double and Kevin Durant nearly matching it; Blake Griffin‘s various bloodied facial parts) and unnatural disasters (both teams blowing double-digit, fourth-quarter leads in successive games; Game 5’s controversial out-of-bounds call; Doc Rivers, a stabilizing rock and picture of calm during the Donald Sterling mess going volcanic after Game 5).

With nerves on edge and pressure dialed higher than the blazing L.A. sun, tonight’s Game 6 (10:30 ET, ESPN) could come down to which team keeps it cool through the inevitable ebbs and flows, no-calls, good calls and bad calls. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers finished the regular season first and second in technical fouls assessed, with Griffin (16) tied for first among all players and Durant (15) third.

“We have an emotional group of guys, I’ve known that since Day 1,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You have to have a very even-keel approach to the game because it’s an emotional game, it’s a very competitive game, 10 of the greatest athletes competing against each other and you have to be able to remain calm in the moments. At times we struggle in that area, but for the most part we do a pretty good job of that.”

In the five games, 10 players — seven on the Thunder — have been hit with at least one technical foul. Paul and Westbrook are tied for most in the playoffs with three each. For the Clippers, Matt Barnes has two while the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Durant all also have two. Even Brooks has a T.

Rivers worried about his team’s penchant to fray when things start to slip away a bit or when calls don’t go their way. During the season he instituted the fourth-quarter rule: No technical fouls in the fourth quarter.

The bigger concern tonight is the first quarter and how the Clippers respond emotionally from their demoralizing Game 5 collapse that left Rivers hot — he was fined $25,000 Thursday for his post-game criticism of the officials — and Paul, who in the final 17 seconds committed two critical turnovers and the foul on Westbrook’s 3-point play, as demoralized as some longtime followers have ever seen the seven-time All-Star point guard.

“He’s normal, he’s normal,” Barnes said of Paul. “A lot comes with being great. You get a lot of blame when you lose and you get praise when you win, and unfortunately it went the other way this time. We let him know it was any one play. We win as a team, lose as a team. He took it hard, but I have no doubt he’ll be back to his self today.”

Rivers tried to tamp down the flames from the Game 5 collapse and controversial call on the team’s flight home from Oklahoma City. He approached the players, asked for the music to be turned off and card games halted so he could talk to them.

“It gave me butterflies almost,” Barnes said. “It’s just like this guy really has our back and he really believes like we believe. It was already stuff we were talking about, but he just came and reiterated it, and told us it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be easy, enjoy it and be ready to work in Game 6.”

The Thunder know the feeling. A controversial call didn’t nip them during their nine-minute meltdown in Game 4 that allowed the Clippers to overcome a 16-point deficit to win. Oklahoma City started Game 5 flat, falling behind 30-15 after sprinting to a 29-7 lead in Game 4.

It’s not a pattern the Clippers want to follow.

“I think we’re in a good mental place, I really do,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said after the team’s Thursday morning shootaround. “Obviously that night, guys were really frustrated and really down. I think that’s a normal reaction; I think it’s good to be that way, to try to get it out and you move forward from there.”

For CP3, critical errors worse than call

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Thunder shock the Clippers in Game 5

OKLAHOMA CITY — Game 5 will be remembered for the call, the officials’ curious explanation following the replay review and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers‘ scorching rant of the entire surreal sequence. It will all be replayed and dissected on a continuous loop.

For Chris Paul, the call that didn’t go the Clippers’ way with 11.3 seconds left to another unfathomable finish in this heart-stopping Western Conference semifinal series, isn’t what will eat at him for hours on end; isn’t what left him in a near-catatonic state in the postgame interview room.

Despite early foul trouble in a game in which the whistles blew early and often, Paul engineered a spectacular game for 47 minutes before he so unexpectedly came unglued in the final 49 seconds. Two turnovers, about what he’s averaged in each game in these playoffs, and inexplicably making contact with Russell Westbrook‘s shooting arm from behind the arc with 6.4 seconds left played a leading role in the Clippers’ collapse, a seven-point lead, and a series lead, dashed in 49.2 seconds.

Forty-nine seconds for a chance to close this out at home Thursday night. Forty-nine seconds for Paul, the nine-year pro and seven-time All-Star, to creep ever closer to his first conference final, and the first, too, for this long-beleaguered, but now proudly resilient franchise of which CP3 has willingly become the undeniable face.

“Toughest thing I’ve been through basketball-wise,” Paul said softly, his body slouched, motionless, his eyes unblinking. “Everything that happened during the end, a turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming that they would foul — dumbest play probably that I’ve ever made. And then hitting Russell’s hand and calling a foul on a 3. Just bad basketball.”


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks after the Clippers’ Game 5 defeat

With 4:13 to go, the Clippers could feel the momentum surging in their favor. Jamal Crawford splashed a 3 and the lead they held practically throughout swelled to 101-88 as the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd groaned. League MVP Kevin Durant was having a miserable night, his worst postseason shooting performance of his career, 3-for-17, and he hadn’t even taken a shot in the fourth quarter.

Not until he popped a 3 with 3:23 to go: 101-93.

Paul would miss a couple of jumpers, and Crawford badly missed a 3. Reggie Jackson‘s layup made it 101-97 with 1:25 to go, but Paul calmly tip-toed into shooting position and drained a 17-footer with 68 seconds left: 104-97.

Durant hit another high-arching 3 with 43 seconds left to make it a four-point game. Crawford missed a scoop at the rim and Westbrook hustled the rebound out to Durant, who raced to the rim and scored with 17.8 seconds left: 104-102.

Still, the Clippers were in control, the shot clock turned off.

Then all hell broke loose.

Paul took the inbounds pass after the Durant bucket up the right sideline. Westbrook pressured him. Paul later said he expected Westbrook to foul him. Instead the Thunder point guard swiped the ball away with a quick jab and it bounced out to Jackson near midcourt. Jackson bolted into the lane, made contact with Matt Barnes and he and the ball went flying out of bounds under the basket. No foul was called. Referee Tony Brothers, positioned on the baseline, signaled Thunder ball.

As all close out-of-bounds plays do, this one went to video replay. Rivers, certain the call would be overturned, picked up his whiteboard to draw up a play. The refs watched the video screen, huddled, conferred and, finally, a verdict: Call stands, Thunder ball.

The Clippers went ballistic.

“I was shocked,” Paul said.

“It was our ball; everybody knows it was our ball,” Rivers, red-faced and hot during his postgame interview, said. “I think the bottom line is they thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let’s take replay away. Let’s take away the replay system because that’s our ball.”

It was the Thunder’s ball. Paul said Brothers told him the replay the referees observed showed it off the Clippers. Later in a statement issued by Brothers, the crew chief, he said the officials viewed two camera angles and neither was convincing enough to reverse the call in the Clippers’ favor: “From those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it’s inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor.”

Said Rivers: “We made our own mistakes, we turned the ball over, we fouled the 3-point shot, we did a lot of stuff to lose the game ourselves. But at the end of the day we have a replay system that you’re supposed to look at, and I don’t want to hear that they didn’t have that replay. That’s a bunch of crap.”

The Thunder were awarded the ball under their basket. Westbrook dribbled out top, sized up Paul and launched himself vertically, releasing a 3-point shot for the lead. Paul appeared to knock Westbrook’s arm and the trajectory of his shot suggested the same. The whistle blew. Foul. Three free throws.

“I didn’t feel like I did [foul], but it doesn’t matter,” Paul said.

With 6.4 seconds showing on the clock, Westbrook, dynamite throughout the game with 38 points and six assists, and the only reason OKC had a chance at all, made all three free throws to put OKC ahead 105-104.

After a timeout to move the ball into the frontcourt, Barnes inbounded to Paul, guarded by Thabo Sefolosha. A screen set Paul free around the right side as he darted toward the lane with designs of feeding a rolling Blake Griffin. But the Thunder’s Jackson dropped off Crawford, got a hand close enough to the ball to avoid a foul while disrupting Paul’s dribble. Paul lost it in the lane and time expired.

Stunned and angry, the Clippers were beside themselves as the buzzer punctuated the finality of an incredible Game 5 that moved the Thunder win from a third West finals appearances in four seasons.

“We lost and it’s on me,” Paul said. “We had a chance to win and the last play, we didn’t get a shot off and that’s just dumb. I’m supposed to be the leader of the team.

“It’s just bad, real bad.”

Just as the Thunder believed they had Game 4 won before blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Clippers, who led 30-15 early, had this one stuffed in their back pocket. They were the better team for 47 minutes.

“They’re supposed to win that game,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “Up 13 with four minutes to go, they’re supposed to win that game.”

And that’s all Paul will think about as he searches for a way to pull himself from Tuesday night’s wreckage.

“I don’t know, you just do,” Paul said of forgetting Game 5. “It’s real bad. Get ready for Game 6.”