The Oklahoma City Thunder are headed back to the Western Conference Finals after a one-year absence, after defeating the Los Angeles Clipper four games to two with a 104-98 victory on the road in Game 6 Thursday night.
The game wasn't without some complaints about the officiating, like with Game 5, but the Clippers will surely fault themselves for failing to hang on to a lead that was as large as 16 at one point. After shooting a scorching 11-of-21 in the first quarter, the Clippers shot 39.2 percent the rest of the way.
The Thunder, meanwhile, rode Kevin Durant, the league's Most Valuable Player, in the highest leverage situation of their season. What's an MVP for, if not to clinch a series - Durant's 31.5 points-per-game in clinching games ranks third in NBA history - and move you one step closer to the NBA Finals? First, though, the San Antonio Spurs await in the Thunder's third Western Conference final in the past four years.
He wasn't the star performer by any means, but a quick moment for personal favorite Nick Collison. One of the most underrated players in basketball, Collison's unselfishness and heady play (four points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block, and a +16 in 17 minutes) was a key factor, along with the energy and rebounding of Steven Funaki Adams (10 points, 11 rebounds), in helping the Thunder lock up the victory and the series.
But, no surprise, it was Durant who was the game's top player. He scored 39 points on 12-of-23 shooting with 16 rebounds and five assists, turning it on when it mattered most. More on that last point below, but here's Durant's shot chart:
At the end of the first quarter, Kevin Durant was shooting 1-of-7 from the floor with three points. He had three rebounds and three assists, sure, but he and Russell Westbrook simply weren't getting it done.
Whatever Scott Brooks said between quarters, or whatever Durant changed, or whatever was in the orange slices Durant ate, it worked. From that point on, Durant shot 11-of-16 for 36 points, 13 rebounds, and a pair of assists, more or less single-handedly ending the Clippers' season while Westbrook took on a facilitating role (19 points, 12 assists), and Serge Ibaka watched from the sideline with an injured left calf.
Seriously, if you missed this game, do yourself a favor: find it. Find a friend who recorded it, try and catch a replay, find it on YouTube, torrent it, whatever. It was a 48-minute highlight reel, as has been the case throughout the series.
And before we get to the real basketball, we'd like to call all photoshop experts:
Now, the game. A soft touch like this shouldn't be legal:
[GIF Courtesy @_MarcusD_]
Neither should instincts like these, because only one man has them:
Don't fret for the Thunder, though. They have an inhuman talent on their team, too:
Quote of the Game
So, that fifth foul called on Chris Paul, the one where Adams jumped wildly and bumped into Paul, losing his balance on his own and falling over? Basketball Twitter thinks it was a bad call:
It also made several fans throw debris on the court in protest, which never helps anyone.
Series at a Glance
Game 1: LAC 122, OKC 105 (Clippers lead series 1-0)
Game 2: OKC 112, LAC 101 (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: OKC 118, LAC 112 (Thunder lead series 2-1)
Game 4: LAC 101, OKC 99 (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5: OKC 105, LAC 104 (Thunder lead series 3-2)
Game 6: OKC 104, LAC 98 (Thunder win series 4-2)
Feature photo courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports