Summer is a season of sequels in Hollywood. What happened to the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night was a feeling of déjà vu Clipper fans have grown accustomed to over the years – heartbreak.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were favorites playing on their own home floor, but they weren’t the lead protagonists on Game 5’s stage. The Clippers wrote, directed and headlined their own Shakespearian-Tyler Perry collabo tragedy. The Thunder were extras in a recurring role for the franchise that the basketball gods forgot. Winners of Game 5s advance 77 percent of the time and their disheartening collapse in the final minutes may have buried them alive heading into Game 6.
Donald Sterling may not have his fingers gripping the franchise’s levers anymore, but the Clippers collapse was just the latest in a karmic franchise lifetime of implosions.
The most heartbreaking part is that Chris Paul was the culprit who dropped the ball literally and figuratively on three consecutive game possessions. Not just any possessions, but Paul’s out of character, errors were equivalent of watching Jim Carrey getting his tongue stuck to a frozen pole.
The name change to Lob City was an admirable attempt to erase their history of losing, but Clipperland has been a village of the damned for nearly three decades.
Paul has molded the Clipper culture into a respectable on in three seasons, but remnants remain. Paul’s resisted sucking in the Clipper fumes for years, but in the final minutes of Game 5, his immune system broke down and the toxic Clipper particles seeped into his bloodstream.
"It's me," a sullen Paul said in his press conference following the loss. "Everything that happened at the end is on me."
Durant, who’d been off the mark, connected on just six of his 22 shot attempts, but had 27 points thanks to 12-of-12 free throw shooting. In a twist of fate, Russell Westbuckets’ 38 points kept things competitive, but it seemed to be only a matter of time before his trademark ill-advised decision of the night brought the Clippers high hopes for clinching a Western Conference Finals berth on their home court tumbling down. Down the stretch, Durant transformed back into the recurring Freddy Kruger of Clippers fans nightmares and Westbrook’s rash shot-selection actually worked in the Thunder’s favor.
With Blake Griffin playing the best basketball of his career, Game 5 was shaping up to be a new zenith in Clipperdom existence.
Slashing Los Angeles’ 13-point lead to seven took 3 minutes and 20 seconds. It would take a plague of turnovers and comedy of errors for them to give up this comfortable lead. After Paul’s step-back jumper from the right elbow flushed through the cylinder, Los Angeles got complacent, pulled back their Barcalounger massage chairs and called it a night. OKC fastened their boots, picked up their pickaxes and started viciously hacking away at a previously insurmountable lead.
Right out of the timeout, Durant received the inbound pass, squared up and quickly found the bottom of the net on a high level of difficulty right wing trey to cut the lead down to four.
Westbrook is the hoops manifestation of Will Smith’s Hancock. He’s reckless, insanely athletic, and leaves you wondering if the collateral damage is worth his heroic efforts.
It was worth it for the final 21 seconds when he grabbed the rebound off of Jamal Crawford’s missed finger roll and delivered a strike to Durant whom he saw streaking down the court out of his peripherals. Durant’s acrobatic lay-up left the Thunder down two and in a situation where a foul was necessary with the shot clock off.
Hancock– Westbrook did one better by stripping Paul, who got too savvy for his own good while anticipating the foul. There appeared to be contact, but the officials let ‘em play and returned the favor by letting off the hook for slapping Reggie Jackson’s wrist as he rose up for the game-tying lay-up.
“Assuming they were going to foul is probably the dumbest play I've ever made.” An inconsolable Paul said afterwards about the play.
Doc Rivers was irate afterwards as well about the officials not checking the slow-mo instant replay for video evidence of Jackson being the last one to touch the ball before it went out of bounds, but the point was moot. It’s an unofficial law of the land that bad calls cancel each other out and that’s essentially what occurred.
Rivers would have been better off if the officials had whistled Barnes for the two-shot shooting foul if he’d known what was to come.
Jamal Craw4d has become the sultan of the 4-point play, but it was the Clippers who were impaled by their own foolish foul behind the arc. Up two, Paul’s phantom tap on Westbrook’s arm was the 65th time this postseason that a player has been fouled on a three-point attempt. Westbrook calmly knocked down all three while Durant took a seat on the other end of the floor, facing the opposite direction.
However, 6.4 seconds was enough time to run two possessions in NBA dog years. By now, you’ve seen the clip of Chris Paul charging towards the rim, hesitating and then realizing he’s got 6-11 Serge Ibaka preparing to spike any ball (be it Blake Griffin's pair or a regulation Spalding) he can find downward onto the other side of the world.
That wasn’t Paul’s final mistake either. Once Ibaka gained control of Paul’s loosey-goosey dribble, CP3 had another Javale McGee black out error and forgot to foul before time expired. If he’d made the quick foul, Ibaka would have headed to the charity stripe with approximately 1.5 seconds remaining. At best, the Clippers would be down three with another chance to tie.
This was Michael Olowokandi’s career wrapped up in one game. Sixteen years ago, hearts raced in L.A. as the franchise drafted the Kandi Man to become the Clippers counterpart to Shaquille O’Neal.
Needless to say, Olowokandi snatched the hope from Clipper Darrell and Co. who endured winning the lottery one year after the Spurs took David Robinson, then selected Kandi Man 12 months after the Spurs assembled the Twin Towers by complementing The Admiral with Tim Duncan.
No longer are they lottery loiterers, but the Clippers saved their schadenfreude for the postseason’s brightest moment thus far.
The sour look etched onto the faces of crestfallen Clipper fans who watched the Lakers and Spurs dominate the decade while Olowokandi plodded aimlessly up and down the floor in Clippers blue, red and white is analogous to the fragile emotional state of Clipper faithful were left in watching the Thunder take a 3-2 lead. The Thunder sliced the Clippers soul into pieces and shipped it back to their fans in multiple boxes.
It’s currently Rivers’ job to prescribe an emotional stimulant to lift a dejected Paul’s spirits before Game 6. In turn, CP3’s job is to band the Clippers together again and glue the pieces back together.