Clippers should blame themselves for collapse
Never mind the controversial out-of-bounds play at the end of the Thunder's improbable 105-104 victory over the Clippers in Game 5 on Tuesday night. The Clippers collapsed, and have no one to blame but themselves.
Sorry, but I'm not buying Doc Rivers' table-pounding diatribe about how and why the Clippers lost Game 5 to the Thunder on Tuesday night.
As for referee Tony Brothers' statement in the postgame pool report that replay review of whether the ball went out of bounds off Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson or LA's Matt Barnes was inconclusive? I'm not buying that, either.
The only fair assessment of the Clippers' epic meltdown in the final 49 seconds of a series-tipping 105-104 loss in Oklahoma City is that they did it to themselves.
To review, the Clippers led 104-97 and were 49 seconds of elementary school game management away from taking a 3-2 series lead. Out of a timeout, Kevin Durant -- who finished 6-for-22 -- drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four. After Jamal Crawford called for a clearout (instead of, say, a post-up for Blake Griffin, who'd been punishing the Thunder all night) and missed a finger roll, the Clippers let Durant leak out for a transition layup that cut it to 104-102 with 17 seconds left.
Then, the Clippers -- and the heretofore flawless Chris Paul -- really fell apart.
Needing to merely protect the ball and accept a foul from Russell Westbrook, Paul instead tried to escape -- and lost the ball. Was he fouled? He certainly would've been -- and would've been at the line for the game-sealing free throws -- had he just held the ball.
What happened next is what Rivers and the Clippers want to focus on: Jackson came up with the loose ball, drove to the basket and had the ball go out of bounds after contact from Barnes. No foul was called -- and none could be issued via replay review -- and Brothers told a pool reporter that he found the replay videos inconclusive. By rule, the ball stayed with the Thunder because that was the call on the floor.
Rivers didn't buy this explanation, either, yelling at Thunder owner Clay Bennett after the game, "Why can't we get the right replay?"
"We saw two replays," Brothers said. "The two replays we saw were from the overhead camera showing down, and the one from under the basket showing the same angle but from a different view. And from those two replays, it was inconclusive as to who the ball went out of bounds off of. When it’s inconclusive, we have to go with the call that was on the floor.”
With Brothers calling the replays inconclusive, the NBA cannot now dust off its rulebook and offer the following explanation for why the Thunder retained possession. Rule 8, Section II (c) states, in part: "If a player has his hand in contact with the ball and an opponent hits the
hand causing the ball to go out-of-bounds, the team whose player had his hand on the ball
will retain possession."
Looking at the replay, that appears to be the closest approximation of what happened. But Brothers' explanation clearly shows that's not what guided his ruling.
In short, the officials may have gotten the call right by accident.
In any event, what was Paul thinking when he tried to escape Westbrook instead of just accepting the foul, knocking down two free throws and heading home with a 3-2 lead?
What was Westbrook thinking when he launched a hero-ball 3-pointer with seven seconds left out of the ensuing inbounds play? What was Paul thinking when he hit him on the elbow, resulting in three free throws and a 105-104 lead?
After all this, the Clippers still had a chance. The 6.4 seconds Westbrook had left them was plenty of time to regain the lead on the final possession. Paul, brilliant for the first 239 minutes of this series, tried to thread the needle on a bounce-pass to a rolling Griffin and lost the ball to Serge Ibaka as time expired.
The NBA, of course, is reviewing the controversial out-of-bounds play, as it reviews all replay situations. Nothing the league says today can change what happened. But if we're being fair, the Clippers have no one to blame but themselves.
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