Playoffs Day 21: Durant sinks Lakers with game-winner; Spurs rally over Clippers

If you are a fan of either of the Los Angeles teams, you might have had some trouble sleeping through Saturday night.

If you predicted that the Clippers (me) or the Lakers (Sheridan) would move past the second round, you probably wish to have those predictions back, as both teams are now on the verge of being eliminated from of the Western Conference semifinals.

Before discussing how each team blew their respective chances, it’s time to acknowledge and pay respects to one cold-blooded lanky cat.

Kevin Durant, right now, is the most clutch superstar in the NBA.

The silky-smooth small forward came through against the Mavericks in Game 1 of the first round with a game-winning jump shot over the outstretched arms of Shawn Marion.

Mr. Durantula clearly isn’t done playing hero in these playoffs because he did it again, this time against the Lakers on a must-score possession with 13.7 seconds left and the game tied at 98.

With five seconds left on the shot clock, he saw Metta World Peace back up ever-so-slightly, so he let a 3-pointer fly, and it was a no-doubter that all but ended the Lakers’ hopes of moving past the second round.

He did plenty more than score the final basket, too.

From J.A. Adande of ESPN: “Kevin Durant is the most valuable player in these playoffs. Ordinarily it would be foolish to make sweeping generalizations based on one day in one building … but with half the remaining NBA participants in action inside Staples Center Saturday I’m confident in these proclamations: the San Antonio Spurs are the best team and Oklahoma City’s Durant is the best player. You can’t ask a guy to do more to deliver a playoff victory than Durant did down the stretch in the Thunder’s 103-100 Game 4 victory that gave them a 3-1 lead in the series. He guarded Kobe Bryant while Bryant was in the process of missing eight of nine fourth-quarter shots (that doesn’t count the meaningless last-second shot that went in). For the game, Bryant shot 0-for-4 with Durant guarding him. He came up with his second big steal of the series, this time when Pau Gasol ignored an open shot and made a pass that disappointed Mike Brown and infuriated Bryant. He hit a baseline jumper to tie the game and a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up for good with 13.7 seconds remaining.”

Things weren’t looking so good for the Thunder, who trailed for most of the game. The Lakers, like they did in the previous two games, controlled the tempo and seemed to have figured out how to limit Oklahoma City on offense.

Then, Russell Westbrook struck. The fiery point guard absolutely went off to hit more shots and score more points than he did in his previous two games combined.

From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: “For 2 1/2 quarters, it lingered there, like smog in the Los Angeles sky. No matter what the boys in the road blues did, they just couldn’t crack the seven-point barrier. They tried and tried but had no idea how to hurdle that hump. Until they got the ball to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder’s star point guard carried his team in the fourth quarter. He brought Oklahoma City back from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit and did the heavy lifting long enough for Kevin Durant to drill a series-changing 3-pointer from the top of the key with 13.7 seconds remaining to lift the Thunder to a 103-100 win over the Lakers in Game 4 on Saturday night inside Staples Center… With how dialed in Westbrook has been, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder not finishing off the Lakers at the first opportunity. Westbrook scored a team-high 37 points on 15-of-26 shooting to slay the Lakers. He poured in 10 of his points in the fourth quarter.”

Meanwhile, the Lakers got away from what proved to be so successful for the first three quarters: pound it inside and share the ball.

Andrew Bynum scored 18 points on 9-of-15 shooting, but 14 of those points came in the first half and he only had two shot attempts in the fourth quarter.

Bryant had a monster game with 38 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Well, it was a monster game until the fourth quarter where he forced one bad shot after another en route to missing eight of his final 10 attempts.

Pau Gasol’s non-aggressive ways may have led to more forced shots for Bryant, who had plenty to say about the miscues of his teammate.

From Bill Plaschke of Los Angeles Times: “Everyone is mad at Pau Gasol. His 10-point, three-turnover night was capped Saturday when he threw away a pass on what could have been the game-winning possession… It was a bit unseemly, but Kobe Bryant was ripping it right away. “It was a bad read,” said Bryant. “It was a bad read on Pau’s part.” Bryant, who went two-for-10 in the fourth quarter after rescuing the team during that same the period in Friday night’s victory, nonetheless continued to publicly scold his teammate. “Pau has got to be more assertive; he’s got to be more aggressive,” Bryant said. “He’s looking to swing the ball too much. He just has to shoot it.” Gasol took full blame for the pass: “I could have shot it at that point, and if I could go back, I would have.” But Gasol refused to take blame for the loss. “It was one play, one mistake,” he said, “but there were a lot of mistakes in the quarter, a lot of mistakes in the game.”

At least Gasol has the support of Metta World Peace. “I support him. I’ll take the blame,” World Peace said. “Maybe I should’ve cut. He saw me open, I should’ve cut. It’s my fault.”

The team now sports a new motto:

"1 Game At A Time" written on the Lakers' locker room whiteboard after the game. Slightly different tone than "11 More."
@ArashMarkazi
Arash Markazi

One game at a time. Like they have a choice.

Moving on to the other disastrous story for Los Angeles, the Clippers got a taste of their own medicine as they blew a 24-point lead against the Spurs, who took the 96-86 victory and now has a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

Despite a horrendous start to the game, the Spurs never panicked. Not only did they claw away at the insurmountable lead, they took a convincing 11-point lead of their own to boot and never let the Clippers get close again.

To add insult to injury, they hacked Reggie Evans eight times in the final 3:42, with the game well in hand. Evans missed six of those attempts.

The only question remaining for the experienced San Antonio team is this: Will they ever lose again this season?

From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express-News: “For 38 days, the Spurs had run roughshod across the NBA, picking up wins as if they were on special at Costco, making everything look so easy and so predictable. So imagine the Spurs’ surprise — and perhaps that of the Los Angeles Clippers, too — when they looked up at the Staples Center scoreboard in the second quarter Saturday to see the following unexpected sight: Clippers 40, Spurs 16. By the end of Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal series, the Spurs had discovered a different route to the same old destination, riding the crest of a history-making comeback to grab a 96-86 victory and a commanding 3-0 series lead. “We just stayed in there,” said point guard Tony Parker, who had 23 points and 10 assists for his first double-double of the playoffs. “We knew it was a long game. We didn’t panic.” The triumph was the Spurs’ 17th in a row, matching the longest streak in club history, and moved them within a win in Game 4 tonight of sweeping two series in the same postseason for the first time since 1999.”

Perhaps the Clippers would have won the game if Chris Paul was Chris Paul. Unfortunately, everyone, including Gregg Popovich, can see that the do-it-all point guard has not been himself in this series, even if Paul would never admit to it.

From Pedro Moura of ESPN Los Angeles: “San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has seen Chris Paul play enough times over his seven-year NBA career to feel comfortable declaring that Paul hasn’t been himself this series. Speaking following the Spurs’ 96-86 win over Paul and the Clippers on Saturday at the Staples Center, Paul’s third straight poor performance of the series, Popovich indicated his team has been lucky to go against Paul at less than his best. “I don’t know what Chris will say, but I don’t think he’s 100 percent Chris Paul,” Popovich said. “I’m looking at him, and I know that kid. I know how he can play, and he’s not 100 percent.” For his part, Paul is trying to keep his strained right hip flexor at a low profile. Told of Popovich’s comments in the locker room afterward, Paul interrupted an inquiring reporter and denied anything of the sort. “I’m playing,” he said. “I’m good. I’m good. I’m just not playing well, I gotta play better.”

One player that seems to be recovering from his injury is Blake Griffin who came out on fire and finished with 28 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. However, he was limited to just 3-of-11 shooting in the second half, and could do little to stop the Spurs’ furious comeback.

Stopping the opposing team is the job of the coach, and Vinny Del Negro made next to no adjustments while his team’s lead dwindled.

Vinny Del Negro, asked if the Spurs have the coaching edge in this series: "Absolutely."
@JMcDonald_SAEN
Jeff McDonald

At least he is aware, which isn’t of any consolation to the Clippers nor its fans.

Vinny Del Negro just sticks his hands out after that timeout as if to say, "I have nothing." Spurs 91, Clippers 78 with 3:21 left.
@ArashMarkazi
Arash Markazi

With that type of coaching, this series just may end tonight as the teams meet again in their back-to-back.

From Broderick Turner of Los Angeles Times:  “The end is near, no matter what the Clippers say, no matter which cliche they attempt to utter, no matter how much more stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin try to coax out of their bodies. And the end of the Clippers’ season could come as soon as Sunday, as soon as they are finished playing Game 4 to complete a rare playoff back-to-back at Staples Center. In what Paul described as a “devastating” defeat, the Clippers squandered a 24-point second-quarter lead and were pushed to the brink of elimination by the San Antonio Spurs, who defeated them, 96-86, Saturday afternoon in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals. It left the Clippers down, 3-0, in the best-of-seven series. It also left them contemplating how they could have blown a 40-16 lead. And finally they were left to ponder how they could make the impossible happen, how to do what no NBA team ever has — win a playoff series after trailing 3-0. “It’s worth a try,” Paul said. “It’s worth a try.”

James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.

 

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