Game 6 preview: Will the effects of Game 5 carry over and send the Thunder to the Conference Finals?

Durant knows Westbrook would run through a wall and ride the Hindenburg for him - WBB

The Thunder is a win away from going to its third conference finals in four seasons. After escaping Game 5 with an emotional - and controversial - win, they look to close out the series on the road against a frustrated Clippers' team.

2013-2014 NBA Pre-Season
Thunder_medium_medium
Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)
@
Clippers_medium
Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
9:30 PM CST
ESPN
WWLS 98.1 FM OKC
Enemy Blogs: Clips Nation
Previous Meetings: Game 1 (L, 122-105), Game 2 (W, 112-101), Game 3 (W, 118-112), Game 4 (L, 101-99), Game 5 (W, 105-104)
Injury Report: Hedo Turkoglu, DTD
Probable Starters
Chris Paul P Russell Westbrook
J.J. Redick SG Thabo Sefolosha
Matt Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins

We'd be remiss not to start off looking ahead by not looking back one more time.

By now you know what happened in Game 5, because every single non-Thunder fan you know spent the off day guilt-tripping you, trying to make you feel like OKC cheated its way to victory.

Here's what we know:

  • The Thunder has been the better team in this series in Games 2 and 3, for 40 minutes of Game 4, and for about four minutes of Game 5. So it's not like they aren't just as deserving of the series lead as Clippers' fans feel their team is.
  • The ball went off Reggie Jackson's hand. But to claim that was the turning point in the series - as my new friend and unofficial Staples Center tour guide Steve Perrin at Clips Nation basically did, as did Doc Rivers - is a little extreme. To even get to that point, check out the play-by-play of those final four minutes that saw OKC trailing by 13 points with 4:01 left to play.
  1. Westbrook layup
  2. Crawford miss
  3. Durant 3-pointer
  4. Chris Paul miss
  5. Westbrook miss
  6. Chris Paul miss
  7. KD free throws
  8. DeAndre turnover
  9. KD miss, Jackson offensive board, KD miss, Jackson offensive board again, Westbrok miss
  10. Crawford miss
  11. Jackson layup
  12. Griffin free throw, misses second, Davis offensive board leads to Paul jumper
  13. KD 3-pointer
  14. Crawford miss
  15. Durant layup
  16. Paul turnover
  17. The most controversial play in the history of basketball
  18. Paul fouls a 3-point shooter
  19. Westbrook 3 FTs
  20. Paul turnover

To recap: That's three Clippers turnovers, five missed field goals, and one gigantically stupid foul - and if you look at the still photos, there is CLEARLY contact on Westbrook's elbow, which may explain why he bricked it so bad.

For the Thunder, those last four minutes included two Durant 3-pointers, three layups, five free throws - all of which came under pressure, but not enough to cause the Thunder to lose their composure.

Clippers fans can dwell on a missed call - there's a 99 percent chance Thunder fans would do the same had the call gone against them - but just know that it took a ton of huge efforts from the entire Thunder roster to even get to that point, as well as some bad defense and boneheaded decision-making by the Clippers.

Add to that the fact that, if we're going to nitpick each and every call, you could point to the early ticky-tack calls that went against Ibaka on Griffin in the first quarter that put him in foul trouble and changed the entire dynamic of what the Thunder offense tried to do. You could point to the four-point foul call on Jackson against Crawford that created a huge momentum swing back in the Clippers' favor.

The point is, there are so many big-time possessions in the Playoffs that the teams that weather the storm of plays that don't go their way tend to win out. The Clippers are an emotional bunch, one that has been reigned in by Doc Rivers, but still prone to playing more for a whistle than for points.

That Westbrook steal on Paul on the play that led to the Jackson call is the prime example. Paul has been trying to bait refs into giving him three free throws on an intentional foul for as long as he's been in the league, to which the refs almost never comply. He's like a basketball hipster when it comes to that sort of play, trying to appear smarter than everyone else instead of just taking what is so easily his. And just like the Black Keys are prone to a subpar album, Chris Paul is also prone to trying to do too much.

That led to Jackson getting hacked by Barnes and the refs correcting the fact that they missed the call by giving the Thunder possession even though they probably shouldn't have had it. Is that sketchy? Absolutely. But it was a play that doesn't happen in the first place if Paul just stuck to playing basketball and not trying to convert everyone to the Church of Chris Paul, Point God. And at the end of of the day (cc: Doc Rivers)  correcting a bad call in a sketchy way is still better than not making a call altogether.

Also, don't overlook the fact that Westbrook buried all three of those free throws, either. We've even seen Durant miss some free throws in big moments this postseason, but Westbrook has been dead on from the stripe - shooting 86 percent in the Playoffs, up 4 percent from his regular season average - and even one miss guarantees overtime and who knows where the game goes from there.

This entire recap up to this point may read as a rant, and maybe it is a little, because the dwelling on one call can be frustrating and overlooks so much else. Durant appeared perturbed by the notion that the Jackson call defined the game during his postgame presser, as well:

"We were down 13 with [four] minutes to go and everybody was getting up and walking out. We were down seven with 47 seconds to go, but we ain't going to talk about just the last play...How about the six plays we made before those fouls, that we made to put us in position? So a lot of people aren't going to talk about that, they're going to just talk about what happened at the end. I think we fought so hard, we went through so much adversity to come out on top, it's kind of a shame people are going to try and take that from us because of the last few calls, but sometimes that's how the game goes."

Aside from the fact that he exaggerated how little time the Thunder had to stage the comeback - it was four minutes - and the subtle dig at the fans that left early, that's Durant saying the same thing: you can try and undermine the victory, but the Thunder still did plenty right to earn the win.

What's done is done. The Thunder survived and stole back the game they gave away in LA. Now they're right back at Staples Center where, again, they outplayed the Clippers for 88 of 96 minutes over the weekend. They have all the reason in the world to feel confident, as the breaks seem to be falling their way and they continue to stay together in spite of all of it.

Think about the mental toughness these team has needed to survive to this point. The talk in the other conference is the Pacers' inconsistency, but this is a Thunder team that has gone from needing a new coach, needing a new point guard, maybe being at the end of their run as we know it, to being in the driver's seat for the conference finals once again. It just seems like every time the noise gets loudest, every time the team gets most desperate, that's when they respond best and play their best basketball.

It's even led to Bill Simmons writing reasonable things about the Thunder (aside from his usual Harden tangent, because the man is incapable of talking about the Thunder without horribly butchering the facts behind why that deal happened in the first place), making good points about how all of these things keep breaking for the Thunder, and maybe it really is just their time.

Still, you almost worry about tonight's game because the stakes aren't do-or-die. It seems like the Thunder is at its best when everything is on the line and they are at their most desperate. Tonight, the Thunder can lose and still be a great position to win Game 7 at home. Can they avoid the complacency which seems to be their biggest obstacle this season?

Something about Game 5 felt different, though, like it may have staying power. It's not about just winning anymore, it's about proving they are a worthy championship contender. This team has survived an extremely physical Grizzlies team, and they're a win away from surviving an ultra-athletic, incredibly well-coached Clippers team. You could make the case they've faced the two toughest teams in the West.

Then consider the Clippers, who have been tortured for years with an awful franchise, have an awful owner that may finally be on his way out, with a future brighter than ever before. To be so close to getting to new heights, and to have it ripped away so brutally, it's hard to see them not having some lingering mental effects even 48 hours later.

The Thunder have the momentum, they've weathered every possible storm, and it takes one more win to get the matchup they may feel more comfortable with than anyone else in the Spurs. They've come too far, gone through too much, and the light at the end is too bright, for them to let up now.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Los Angeles Clippers 95

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