Previewing Game 5 of the Clippers-Thunder Western Conference semifinal series.
1. The Facts: 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT). Follow the action here. All players are expected to be available.
2. Where We Are: Knotted at 2 and this looks to be the one semifinals matchup that could go the distance. The Thunder were about to take a 3-1 lead going back home and total control of the series. They were up 22 at one point and 16 in the fourth quarter of Game 4. They were up six late. And yet they melted down and find themselves still in need of two wins to advance -- all this after the Clippers showed in Game 1 they can win in the Thunderdome.
The Thunder also have to deal with a lot of scrutiny regarding the inability to solve Chris Paul guarding Kevin Durant. The line of questioning annoys Durant, who knows the real problem is he's being double-teamed Once again, as it has been in these playoffs, the Thunder find adversity every time they find any success. How they respond determines their title chances.
3. The Big Number: 17.3. Or the number of points per game off turnovers the Clippers are producing, best in the second round for any team. The Thunder are turning over 16.5 percent of all their possessions, good (or bad) for 16 times per game. By comparison, the Wizards are turning it over 14.8 times per game in the second round vs. Indy, but the Pacers are only averaging 13.8 points off of them. Still a high number, but not more than a point per possession.
The easy answer is for the Thunder to stop turning the ball over, but their hyper-athletic, up-and-down style is turnover prone. The key for the Thunder is to get back in transition and not allow easy points there. You can live with turnovers if your offense is as efficient otherwise, but allowing turnovers to result in points for the Clippers is counterproductive.
4. Key Adjustment: Paul guarding Durant and double-teams by the Clippers is the easy one here, but that's pretty easy to solve. Get Durant involved in the pick and roll or off the cut so he's not stationary when the defense attacks, and improve the spacing by his teammates so he's not tossing up terrible cross-court passes.
But OKC should be punishing the Clippers for using this strategy. In most cases when the Clippers pulled that trick late against OKC, Darren Collison was guarding Russell Westbrook. Even if you think Westbrook should take fewer shots than Durant late in the game, that changes when Collison is guarding him. Westbrook needs to back him down into oblivion.
5. The Big Story: How does OKC respond to adversity? They've responded well every time in the playoffs, after Games 3 and 5 of the Grizzlies series and after the Clippers beat them in Game 1. Will they have the strength to find a way to win this one? Or is the pressure getting to be too much? ... As for the the other "Big Story:" How do Doc Rivers and the Clippers respond in the wake of more Donald Sterling nonsense?