at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Oklahoma City – Thunder staged a remarkable last-minute rally to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-104 in Game Five of their Western Conference semi-final series on Tuesday.
Trailing by seven points with just 49 seconds remaining, Oklahoma City Thunder two leading players scored the game's last eight points to steal victory in front of a raucous home crowd and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Forward Kevin Durant hit a three-pointer and a layup, and guard Russell Westbrook, who led all scorers with 38 points, nailed three clutch free throws to guide the second-seeded Thunder to victory.
“Faith,” Westbrook told reporters of a game the Thunder trailed for most of the night. “We just did a good job of staying together. We kept chipping away and playing together.”
Despite forward Durant's off night by his lofty standards, 27 points on just 6-for-22 shooting, the Thunder kept fighting back with chances to take the lead in the fourth.
“There was definitely frustration,” Durant said. “I just tried to stick with it. Russ carried us the whole game. Put me in position to go out there and hit those shots and to win the game.”
For a long time a home victory appeared unlikely as each time the Thunder got within range, it seemed like Clippers reserve guard Jamal Crawford had an answer.
Whether it was a jump shot or drive to the basket, the shot maker became a momentum stopper. That included draining a three-pointer to push the lead to 101-88 with less than four minutes remaining.
Westbrook and Durant made back-to-back jumpers to cut lead to eight points with 3:19 on the clock. Durant then sank a pair of free throws and guard Reggie Jackson got a breakaway layup to get Oklahoma City within four.
The Clippers went to forward Blake Griffin, who was fouled on a drive. He made the first but missed the second free throw attempts.
However, Los Angeles got the rebound and guard Chris Paul made the Thunder pay with a jumper with 49 seconds on the clock but Oklahoma City refused to concede defeat.
Durant scored five straight to get the Thunder within two points before Westbrook stole the ball from Paul and passed it to Jackson for a layup attempt that was knocked out of bounds.
The ball stayed with the Thunder, a call Clippers coach Doc Rivers disagreed with.
“It was our ball,” Rivers said.
“Everybody knows it was our ball. The bottom line is they (officials) thought it was a foul and they made up for it. In my opinion, let's take away the replay system. Because that's our ball, we win the game. We got robbed because of that call.”
Los Angeles compounded the problem when Paul fouled Westbrook on a three-point attempt. Westbrook made all three to give Oklahoma City a one-point advantage with six seconds left.
The Clippers still had a chance to steal the victory and got the ball to Paul. He drove to the basket, but Jackson deflected it and forward Serge Ibaka came up with the steal to seal the win.
“Probably the toughest thing I've been through basketball wise,” a disconsolate Paul said.
“It's me. Everything that happened there at the end is on me. The turnover with 17 seconds left; assuming they are going to foul is probably the dumbest play I've ever made. Then to even put it in the official's hand to call a foul on a three, is just bad basketball.”
Griffin led the Clippers with 24 points and 17 rebounds, Paul added 17 points and 14 assists, and Crawford came off the bench to score 19.
Game Six is in Los Angeles on Thursday, where the third-seeded Clippers will be hoping to send the series to a decider. – Reuters