The Los Angeles Clippers stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99 in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday afternoon to tie the series 2-2.
After being outscored by 17 points in the game's opening period and facing a deficit as large as 22 points, the Clippers slowly and steadily mounted a charge over the second and third periods (outscoring the opposition by five) before exploding for 38 points in the final frame while besting the Thunder by 14 in that span.
Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook had a chance to win the game with a long three-pointer as time expired, but came up empty following several big buckets by Darren Collison.
"That was a very physical basketball game...defensively we have to do a much better job," Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks said following the loss, according to the team's official Twitter account.
Although the Clippers shot just 41.9 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three (3-of-21), they boasted four double-figure scorers, including Blake Griffin, who scored a team-high 25 points in 40 minutes.
Chris Paul added a double-double consisting of 23 points and 10 dimes in the win.
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 40 points, but Oklahoma City's play-calling down the stretch left plenty to be desired as the Thunder continually settled for jumpers and deferred to Westbrook during the game's most crucial stages.
As a team, the Thunder shot 44 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from three.
Players are graded on a conventional A to F scale, with each contributor starting at a C and moving up or down based on the quality of his performance.
However, it's important to note role players and reserves are graded on a curve due to their smaller allotment of minutes.
Key Players: Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant, Small Forward
The first player into double-figures with 10 points at the 4:39 mark of the first quarter, Kevin Durant put on his usual, efficient act as the Thunder stormed out of the gates.
But when the Clippers made a massive dent in Oklahoma City's 22-point lead, Durant's effectiveness waned to concerning degrees.
After a 3-of-3 start, Durant missed six of his next seven shots, all of which came outside of the paint. To complicate problems, Durant couldn't establish a rhythm from deep, missing five of his first six attempts from beyond the arc.
That said, Durant's strong take and finish near the end of the first half helped push the Thunder's lead back to double digits:
Durant's ability to consistently get to the free-throw line was huge (15-of-18 shooting from the stripe) and helped buoy his offensive efficiency when his jump shots weren't falling.
It didn't feel like a dominant performance, but Durant dropped a game-high 40 points (12-of-24 shooting, 1-of-7 from three) while pulling down seven rebounds, dishing out three assists and committing a game-high eight turnovers.
Russell Westbrook, Point Guard
Entering Game 4, Russell Westbrook had not shot worse than 50 percent from the field since Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Memphis Grizzlies. In fact, Westbrook averaged 27 points, 8.2 rebounds, 9.6 assists on 55.2 percent shooting from the field and 56.3 percent shooting from three over his past five games, according to NBA.com,
With his efficiency trending in a positive direction, the Thunder needed another stellar performance from their star point guard.
From the jump, Westbrook flashed the same aggression we've come to know and love (or hate, depending on your opinion of him) by scoring five points and dropping three dimes during Oklahoma City's scalding hot start.
During a first quarter that saw the Thunder outscore the Clippers 32-15 and shoot 64.7 percent from the field, Westbrook had already compiled 11 points, five assists and three steals.
Things turned ugly for Westbrook down the stretch, though. Durant didn't touch the ball on five consecutive possessions in crunch time, which led to a number of questionable decisions from Westbrook and the eventual evaporation of Oklahoma City's lead.
The pros and cons were all on display (his passing in transition was exceptional), but Westbrook threatened to post a triple-double with a final line of 27 points (10-of-22 shooting), six rebounds, eight assists, three steals and four turnovers.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward
A 63.8 percent shooter from the field during the postseason entering Game 4, Serge Ibaka has emerged as a lethal third option in Oklahoma City's offense.
And you better believe head coach Scott Brooks wanted him to come out with an aggressive attitude Sunday afternoon.
"He's one of our best mid-range shooters," Brooks said prior to tipoff, according to NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff. "We want him taking 16-17-foot jump shots."
Ibaka chimed in early with his first pair of three-pointers this series and provided spectacular post defense that continually frustrated Blake Griffin.
However, the Thunder didn't often play through Ibaka's strengths on offense, although his length on defense stole the show for a few brief moments.
We would have liked to see some more spot-ups designed specifically for Ibaka (eight points on 2-of-5 shooting), but his all-around showing was solid, evidenced by five rebounds and a game-high four blocks.
Reggie Jackson, Sixth Man
After scoring in single digits over the series' first two games, Reggie Jackson nearly doubled his production against the Clippers with a 14-point outing in Game 3.
In need of that offensive spark once again, it was imperative that Jackson come out and attack the paint once again (all five of his conversions in Game 3 came within four feet of the basket).
What's more noteworthy is that Oklahoma City entered Sunday a team-best plus-13 with Jackson on the floor and a team-worst minus-13 with him off it, per NBA.com.
Jackson continued to look steady after scoring five points on his first two shots, but his defense left plenty to be desired.
It wasn't a breakout afternoon for Oklahoma City's sixth man, but he did enough to earn passing marks.
Ten points (4-of-8 shooting), three rebounds and two assists were the key components of his day's work.
Thabo Sefolosha, Shooting Guard
Thabo Sefolosha's offensive contributions were admittedly nominal, but he played a nice complementary role on Sunday.
Steady defense on J.J. Redick and a plus/minus rating of plus-18 helped boost Sefolosha's grade on a day when he scored four points and pulled down four rebounds.
Kendrick Perkins, Center
We don't usually have many superlatives to bestow upon Kendrick Perkins, but four first-quarter rebounds nearly equaled his postseason average of 5.3
Although he was the last Thunder player into the scoring column (is that really surprising?), Perkins did well to ward off the Clippers' bigs on the glass at times and set the tone with his physical play during throughout.
Perkins went on to total one point and six rebounds in 26 minutes, which is about what we've come to expect of the plodding big.
Caron Butler may not be a natural when playing with his back to the basket, but the Thunder sought to expose Jamal Crawford's defensive weaknesses throughout the second quarter by posting him up.
However, the Clippers quickly countered by putting the more physical Paul on him, which easily thwarted Oklahoma City's best efforts.
Butler made contributions of six points, six rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes, but posted a plus/minus rating of minus-21.
Derek Fisher, Steven Adams and Nick Collison also saw rotational minutes, although none scored more than two points.
Key Players: Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Point Guard
Paul thrived in Game 3, especially when he was matched up one-on-one against Westbrook.
According to NBA.com, Paul scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just over 10 minutes against vs. Westbrook and drove to the cup three times during that span.
Although the Clippers' offense sputtered to an alarming degree in the first, Paul was determined to get things going.
Thirteen points and four assists highlighted Paul's first-half successes, as he refused to shy away from his role as L.A.'s offensive and defensive stalwart.
The offensive consistency wasn't always there (23 points, 10-of-23 shooting, 0-of-4 from three), but Paul deserves praise for bringing his usual tenacity and helping the Clippers respond after falling behind early.
Paul's determination to spark a 12-2 run and simultaneously defend Durant late in the game showed tremendous leadership, too.
Blake Griffin, Power Forward
Griffin's day got off to an uncomfortable start after he received a nasty shot to the groin courtesy of Ibaka:
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only shot Griffin took during the course of Game 4:
And while the Thunder dominated on the offensive end following the incident, Griffin was bombarded by double-teams upon receiving entry passes in the post and missed his first four shots as a result.
But the points would eventually flow as Griffin started to get punchy, and he did well to eventually overshadow his positional adversary.
Griffin's persistence was encouraging, and it ultimately helped tie things up at 94 with less than two minutes remaining.
He would finish with 25 points (8-of-19 shooting, 9-of-11 from the line), nine rebounds, two assists and a steal.
DeAndre Jordan, Center
DeAndre Jordan was strong on the glass, pulling down a game-high 14 boards in 32 minutes, but he wasn't much of a factor in the pick-and-roll.
Seven points on 3-of-5 shooting were fine, but Jordan shot a horrendous 1-of-7 from the free-throw line. To add to his misery, Jordan also air-balled one of his freebies.
Outside of a sweet finish over Ibaka, a technical foul and some jawing with Perkins, Jordan disappointed.
J.J. Redick, Shooting Guard
As is typically the case, the Clippers tried to establish Redick with some nice off-ball actions throughout the game's opening stages.
The bad news: Redick shot 0-of-4 from the field and generally looked to be out of rhythm as the Thunder jumped out to a dominant 15-3 lead over the game's first five minutes.
On a day when the Clippers opened 0-of-8 from three, Doc Rivers could have used much more refined perimeter marksmanship from his prized wing.
Redick managed just six points on 2-of-8 shooting (1-of-3 from three), no assists and a steal.
Jamal Crawford, Sixth Man
Knock his defense all you want, but Crawford torched Butler on the other end of the floor when the Clippers needed him in the second period.
With the Clippers attempting to mount a colossal second-quarter comeback, Crawford announced his presence by scoring 11 first-half points on 4-of-10 shooting.
The 2013-14 Sixth Man of the Year kept the points coming, and even helped give the Clippers their first lead of the evening with a huge three at the top of the key.
Crawford was far from perfect, but 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting and 2-of-8 shooting from three were good enough. He added five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three turnovers as well.
Matt Barnes, Small Forward
Per usual, the big task facing Matt Barnes was trying to limit Durant's effectiveness to a degree.
In Game 3, Durant scored 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting against Barnes and Jared Dudley, per NBA.com, so the former needed to try and set the tone early.
In that regard, he would wind up failing, as noted above.
While the Thunder's offense would cool down, Durant continually found ways to rack up points. It also didn't help that Barnes was the only Clippers starter who failed to score.
Bench (The Darren Collison Variety Hour)
Crawford's scoring aside, it was the Collison show for the Clippers' second unit.
Collison was extremely clutch, chipping in 18 points, seven rebounds and an assist, including a humongous outburst in the fourth quarter that helped the Clippers pull ahead for good.
The Clippers were also a team-high plus-14 with Collison on the floor.
Glen Davis dropped three dimes and pulled down two rebounds in addition to scoring four points on 2-of-3 shooting.
What's Up Next?
Game 5 will get underway Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET from Oklahoma City. The game will be broadcast on TNT. Game 6, which is now necessary, will be played at a time to be determined on Thursday, May 15. That game will be broadcast on ESPN.