The Los Angeles Clippers missed 14 of their 29 free-throws and 18 of their 21 three-point attempts.
Fortunately, the also scored 12 shots at the rim in the fourth quarter as they overcame a 16-point deficit with nine minutes to play to tie this increasingly physical series after four hard-fought games.
Darren Collison was the unlikely source of late-game scoring, converting a pair of buckets to cap off the Clippers’ fourth-quarter rally. Collison scored 12 of his 18 points in the final twelve minutes.
His first came on a wandering foray in from the left wing as nobody in Thunder blue stepped up to challenge his drive. The second, a breakaway dunk, came after Jamal Crawford tossed the ball over the stationary Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The comeback found it’s roots in Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers’ decision to defend Kevin Durant with Chris Paul.
On the surface the obvious height mismatch favored Oklahoma City. However, Scott Brooks allowed Durant to take Paul into the post, slowing down the Thunder’s energetic offense and preventing Durant from continually waltzing through Los Angeles’ porous defense.
Chris Paul scored six straight points with a little over seven minutes to play to cut the Thunder lead to 84-78. The two teams traded free-throws for several more minutes as the Thunder offense foundered with Durant guarded straight-up by Chris Paul.
As time wound on, the Clippers quickly double-teamed Durant as he caught the ball with his back to the basket. With the ball forced out of his hand, the shot-clock ran down every time Oklahoma City had possession.
Durant committed his eighth turnover with three minutes to play, coming from a bad pass out of another quick double-team. Jamal Crawford picked off his pass as Oklahoma City’s poor floor spacing allowed Crawford to effectively guard two players. Collison scored on the other end to bring the Clippers within one, 90-89.
Kevin Durant then made the final two field goals of his 40-point night on two off-balance jumpers, the second an improbably turnaround over the shorter Paul.
Blake Griffin pulled the Clippers along despite foul trouble holding him out most of the third quarter, he returned with five fouls with 8:44 left in the game. His and-one finish over two defenders tied the game at 94.
Durant benefitted from a poor call on a rip-through move, earning two free-throws with 1:35 to play. He split the pair, leaving the Clippers with the ball and down just a point as Staples Center began to sense a victory was in reach.
Jamal Crawford found himself open several feet beyond the three-point line, sinking the Clippers third three-pointer of the night as they missed badly from deep all game, making just three of their 21 from deep.
The three gave Los Angeles it’s first lead of the game.
Oklahoma City came right back as Westbrook jetted past Collison on the perimeter and scored unopposed at the rim to tie the game again at 97 with 1:16 remaining.
From there, Darren Collison took over, scoring his own easy layup against poor defense before benefitting from Durant and Westbrook ball-watching on a missed shot, creeping in behind for a breakaway dunk and four-point lead.
The Thunder scored again, Westbrook finding his way to the restricted area again for a layup and his 26th and 27th points.
With these playoffs feeling increasingly like a referendum on Scott Brooks’ coaching acumen, the fourth quarter of this game will not stand him in good light.
Brooks, out of timeouts, then made a crucial error. Los Angeles took the ball after Westbrook’s layup with 27.5 seconds left and a three-second differential between the shot- and game-clocks.
The Thunder coach failed to realize the Clippers could run the clock down to almost zero before attempting a shot.
They were largely bailed out by Blake Griffin missing a shot with 7.9 seconds left but Westbrook’s desperation three at the buzzer – a good look – rimmed out.
The series moves back to Oklahoma City Tuesday night for a pivotal Game 5. The winner of Game 5 wins the series 83 percent of the time.
Oklahoma City entered Game 4 looking for a win to let them take total control of the series.
Instead, they return home having handed all momentum to the Clippers with both their coach and key players’ decision-making up for question.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Blake Griffin: 25 points, 8-19 FGS, 9 rebounds, 9-11 FTS
Chris Paul: 23 points, 10-23 FGS, 10 assists
Darren Collison: 18 points, 7-12 FGS, 7 rebounds
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Kevin Durant: 40 points, 12-24 FGS, 7 rebounds, 15-18 FTS
Russell Westbrook: 27 points, 10-22 FGS, 6 rebounds, 8 assists
Reggie Jackson: 10 points, 4-8 FGS, 2-3 3FGS
Game 5 @OKC: Tuesday, May 13th. Tip: 9:30pm ET