In the second part of the series, here is #4 on my list of the top five Clippers games I’ve attended.
It was a 12:30 Sunday afternoon start to game four of the 2014 Western Conference Semis, in which the Clippers were looking to even the series at two games a piece. The Oklahoma City Thunder had their star duo of Russell Westbrook and recently named MVP Kevin Durant. Historically, many Clippers over the years have gone on record saying they dislike the 12:30 starts because it ruins their routines.
Upon entry into the stadium, there were no red shirts that had become the staple of Clipper playoff games. Instead there were white rally towels on every seat that read, “One Team. One Goal. It’s Time.” That had been the slogan on every shirt given out during the 2014 playoff run. Sitting in the 300 section that day, mixed with the incredibly poor start that the Clips got off to, made for a less than stellar atmosphere in the first half. It felt like a big regular season game.
The Thunder led 82-66 with 9:10 to go, and were up by as many as 22. But for some reason, I knew the Clippers had a run in them. I didn’t think they were actually going down three games to one at any point of the game thus far. Then as all home teams do, the Clippers started making their push. A series of steals and buckets cut the lead down to ten, which forced Thunder Coach Scott Brooks to call a timeout with about seven minutes remaining. The crowd was on its feet for the first time all game, waving their white rally towels with excitement.
Of course, the comeback couldn’t have been led by none other than Chris Paul. He scored three consecutive times down the floor, getting to the rim off of his classic pick and rolls. The score was now 84-78 with six minutes left, as Scott Brooks called yet another timeout. And another timeout means more yelling on our feet, waving rally towels. It felt like they just had to win now.
Then, two players started making impacts like I’ll never forget. The backcourt bench mob of Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and former UCLA Bruin Darren Collison, who I was ecstatic to have on the team due to my dad being a UCLA alumni. OKC pushed the lead up to seven, 90-83. Crawford and Blake Griffin then scored two consecutive layups to cut the deficit to three! Now the place was rocking. It was the loudest “DEFENSE” chant I’d ever heard at Staples Center up to that point.
Durant got the ball the next time down and had his pass intercepted following a Clipper double team. Just seconds later, Collison was down at the other end throwing down a dunk to send us into a frenzy as it became a one-point game! Another timeout for Scott Brooks! It was delirium in Staples Center. I felt like the Clips had it in the bag. They had gone on a 23-8 run in the last six minutes.
In typical MVP fashion, KD came down and answered with a jumper of his own. Following two Collison free throws, Durant responded with another tough jumper to make it 94-91. The next possession, the Clippers went to their bread and butter, CP and Blake on a high pick and roll. Griffin converted on a three-point play to tie the game at 94. It got even louder.
Durant uncharacteristically made one of two at the foul line the next possession, and paid for it. Subsequently, the Clips then went into a horns set with Crawford and Griffin setting screens on either side of Paul. The former got a wide open straight away three off the pick and pop. The way he was playing, we knew the result the second he touched the ball. As legendary Clipper play-by-play man Ralph Lawler used to say….BINGO!! It was Los Angeles’ first lead of the game! But before we could stop celebrating, Westbrook classically sprinted down the court and tied the game with a layup. 97-97, one minute to play. We knew we had a classic on our hands.
Collison got the ball and got KD in the air with a pump fake, hit Serge Ibaka with a hesitation dribble and laid it in to give the Clippers the lead. Westbrook then came down and had his shot just rim out. Griffin rebounded, quickly passed to Crawford, who threw an outlet pass to guess who? Darren Collison. It felt like we saw the same thing just happen over and over again, which was Darren Collison one on one with the basket on a break. He laid in his 11th and 12th points of the fourth quarter which led Brooks to call his final timeout. Collison screamed with passion as he was in the middle of his best game in a Clipper uniform.
Following the timeout, Westbrook drove to the rim and cut the deficit in half. The Clippers now had a three second differential between the shot clock and game clock. We hoped they’d use every second of it to get a basket and leave OKC with as little time as possible. With time winding down, Griffin missed a contested layup with seven seconds left. Before I knew it, Westbrook had the ball and was charging up the court. Knowing him at the time, he was taking the shot and not thinking of passing to Durant. As predicted, he went for the win by taking the three, missed and the buzzer sounded. 101-99, the Clippers had tied the series and come back from 22 down. It was absolute celebration in the stands, and a game I’ll never forget. A tale of two halves is the old cliché, and this was no different.
Paul and Griffin combined for 48 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists. Collison and Crawford each had 18 points of their own, to fuel the team to victory. Overall, in his sole season with the Clippers, that memory sticks out the most when I think of Darren Collison. Durant finished with 40 and Westbrook finished with 27 in the loss.
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