Newly minted NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant couldn't bear to watch as Russell Westbrook stepped to the foul line to take three free throws that could have given the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Los Angeles Clippers a one-point lead with less than seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday night. No, for real — like, he literally didn't want to look at it:
As you surely know by now, Westbrook cashed in on all three freebies, giving Oklahoma City a 105-104 lead with six seconds remaining. After Chris Paul committed his second awful turnover of the final 17 seconds on the ensuing L.A. possession, the Thunder escaped with a 105-104 win that, steeped in controversy and raising Doc Rivers' ire as it was, gives Oklahoma City a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series and puts the Clippers on the brink of elimination as the action heads back to the West Coast for Game 6 on Thursday.
Durant was big late, scoring 10 points to lead OKC's 17-3 over the final four minutes, but had struggled mightily earlier in the game, ending the contest having missed 16 of his 22 field-goal attempts, including an 0-for-11 mark on the midrange jumpers that he usually splashes like layups. As much as his late surge helped put the Thunder in position to complete their comeback, his inability to find a rhythm early helped dig that big hole in the first place; as Westbrook stepped to the stripe, the MVP stepped away from the fray and tried to get right with the reality that the outcome was out of his hands. From Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
He quieted the crowd in the corner that was some 80 feet away from the other nine players, then crouched in a catcher's position in the corner while facing the fans who couldn't believe what had unfolded. He sat down as if this was a Thunder family picnic, his long arms draped over his knees before he rose again and even rested his white knuckles over the opposite baseline and into out-of-bounds territory.
He couldn't watch. Yet still, he couldn't believe what he saw.
"I have never seen a game like this with us," said Durant, the seven-year veteran who was playing in his 66th career playoff game. "It just shows that we just keep going. You can never keep us down, and we are going to fight until the end.
Durant didn't just stay parked there and go full Richie Tenenbaum, though. As this video shot by a fan in the stands behind the basket at Chesapeake Energy Arena shows, KD did sneak a peek after the first free throw went in the air before getting to his feet and working his way back into the picture by the time the final freebie came down:
Thanks to Westbrook's pure stroke — which capped off a monster 38-point, six-assist, five-rebound, three-steal performance for the oft-maligned, always thrilling point guard — Durant's nerves wound up being for naught, and OKC came out on the sunny side of perhaps the craziest finish of this postseason. The MVP will surely enter Game 6 aiming to do everything in his power to make sure that finish doesn't wind up outside his control, too.
Hat-tip on the video to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh.
- - - - - - -
- Sports & Recreation