The Oklahoma City Thunder made a spirited comeback in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal Tuesday night to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-104, taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7.
Game 6 is Thursday in Los Angeles, with Oklahoma City having their first opportunity to close out the series.
They’d best take advantage of it.
It’s been a mostly even series so far, with the Clippers outscoring the Thunder 504-503 in the aggregate. But in some key areas, the Clippers have been far superior.
They’re taking better care of the ball, averaging 11 turnovers per game to the 15.4 times a night the Thunder have coughed the ball up in the series.
L.A. has a slight edge in 3-point shooting, hitting 35.4 percent on 26 attempts a game, compared to Oklahoma City’s 33.9 percent on 21.8 attempts.
One area where the Thunder have been exceedingly good is on the glass, where they have thumped the Clippers by an average of roughly eight rebounds per game, with the advantage coming on the defensive glass.
That’s got to continue, because the 11.2 offensive rebounds the Clippers are getting per game is the exact number Oklahoma City is getting off their own window.
Each team has someone to point to as an underachiever thus far in the series, as well, and perhaps the key to clinching it—either way—is which of those guys heats up first, if they do.
Caron Butler had a decent first round against Memphis, hitting 40.7 percent from deep and providing a spark when he was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha in Games 6 and 7 as the Thunder came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series.
I believe “Godawful” to be the appropriate adjective to describe Butler’s play against the Clippers through five games. Yes, Butler is hitting 38.9 percent of his 3-pointers. But he is 2-for-14 from 2-point range, is shooting 28.1 percent from the series in 23.1 minutes a game and is being outperformed by Sefolosha so far.
Thabo is actually having a very efficient series so far, hitting 60.9 percent from the floor (only 3-for-12 from deep, however) and has an offensive rating in the series of 121.1 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rate of 110.4 for a net of plus-10.7. Butler, on the other hand, has ratings of 97.8 and 113, respectively, for a minus-15.2 net.
So why, again, is Butler getting 23 minutes a game and Sefolosha just 18.4?
Yes, I’ve been harshly critical of Sefolosha before, but he’s getting it done—it doesn’t take a genius to see that.
But between the controversial call involving Reggie Jackson late in the fourth quarter and a foul call that put Russell Westbrook on the line to his the go-ahead free throws, the guys in the gray shirts had a lot to do with the outcome of Game 5.
Oklahoma City caught some breaks—there’s no two ways around that fact.
So what they have to do now is take advantage of those breaks and finish what they couldn’t finish in Game 4 in Los Angeles.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have to put the Los Angeles Clippers away at the first opportunity.
This series has been way too closely contested to leave it up to a Game 7 coin flip.