The Oklahoma City Thunder looked like world-beaters through three quarters Wednesday night. Then they got lazy and complacent throughout the final frame and choked away a potential statement game, 103-98, against the Los Angeles Clippers with a massive showdown against the Golden State Warriors looming Thursday night.
The Thunder owned a 17-point lead entering the fourth quarter and led by as many as 22, but a familiar narrative emerged as the Clippers mounted a tremendous comeback that featured a 20-2 run. Oklahoma City has now lost nine games when holding a lead entering the fourth quarter, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Oklahoma City appeared primed for a wire-to-wire thrashing of the Clippers, but once again the Thunder offense devolved into a disjointed mess marred by sloppy passes, ugly shots and poor execution, as a GIF passed along by Snottie Drippen on Twitter illustrated:
Rotoworld's Michael Gallagher offered a look at OKC's shot chart from a fourth quarter that saw the Clippers tally a 35-13 scoring advantage:
Bleacher Report's Chris Palmer noted that the Thunder didn't look like the title contenders they're supposed to be, as they failed time and again to shut the door on the Clippers:
According to SportsCenter, fourth-quarter meltdowns have become commonplace for the Thunder over the past few days:
The Clippers looked dead in the water for three quarters, but the team's bench facilitated a comeback as Chris Paul rested throughout the opening stages of the final period.
Wesley Johnson (11 points) was particularly big, knocking down consecutive triples to help trim OKC's lead to single digits, per the team's official Twitter account:
Jamal Crawford supplemented Johnson's three-point shooting with several key buckets and finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting off the pine.
Paul paced the Clippers with 21 points and 13 assists, while DeAndre Jordan erupted for 20 points and 18 rebounds, including a filthy lob finish, as the team's Twitter account documented:
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 30 points on 12-of-27 shooting, but as the Oklahoman's Erik Horne noted, the Thunder superstar should receive some blame following a careless fourth-quarter display:
While Durant finished with a game-high six turnovers, Westbrook committed five giveaways while posting 24 points and 12 assists.
Westbrook also made an egregious mistake when he rushed a potential game-tying three that dropped his conversion rate on clutch shot attempts to just over 13 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
What once looked like it had the chance to be a momentum-building win for the Thunder quickly turned into a crushing loss. And now Oklahoma City is on the ropes with a showdown against the Golden State Warriors slated for 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday on TNT.
Not only will the Thunder play the Warriors for the second time in six days on the second night of a back-to-back, but they're 2-5 since the All-Star break with some serious late-game issues left to solve.
The Warriors, though, have won 43 straight games at home and should be well-rested following a day off Wednesday. Plus, Stephen Curry hasn't suited up since last Saturday's thriller after tweaking his ankle. If he's good to go and extra recharged Thursday night, the Thunder could be in serious trouble.
As for the Clippers, they can breathe a sigh of relief after erasing the woes that consumed them for three quarters. It wasn't a pretty win by any measure, but with 1.5 games separating them from the Thunder in the standings, L.A. isn't in a position to worry about the aesthetic quality of its victories.
NBA TV captured footage of Jordan's celebratory postgame interview with ESPN's J.A. Adande:
"We did tonight what teams have done to us," Paul said, per Fox Sports' Jovan Buha.
Trying to explain why Westbrook hoisted a frenzied, off-balance three-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan told reporters, "I think it was probably a play to draw a foul," according to Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver.
"They were trying to foul," Westbrook added, per Golliver. "They didn't call it."
Donovan also raised questions regarding his team's identity, according to ESPN's Rachel Nichols:
"We're fooling ourselves if we want to be a great team, the way we're playing...just no discipline," Durant said, per Nichols.