Russell Westbrook sank three clutch free throws with six seconds left as Oklahoma City rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-104 in game five of their second round playoff series.
“I just try to take my time, take a deep breath and knock them down,” Westbrook said. “I slow down my breathing, slow my pace and clear my mind.”
Kevin Durant was breathing easier after finding his shot late in the game and finished with 27 points for the Thunder who lead the NBA’s Western Conference series three games to two.
The Thunder went on a 8-0 surge in the last 49 seconds to get the victory after being down by 13 points with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
League MVP Durant hit five consecutive shots in the frantic final moments after struggling on offence for most of Tuesday’s game.
The final moments included an out-of-bounds replay that favoured the Thunder and led to Westbrook’s winning shots from the free-throw line.
“That could be a series-defining call. And that is not right,” said an irate Clippers coach Doc Rivers who was upset with the officials after the call went against his team.
But the Clippers didn’t help their cause by making costly mistakes down the stretch, including Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul who lost the ball on the Clippers’ final possession.
The loss puts the Clippers, who are also having to deal with the Donald Sterling controversy, on the brink of elimination from the 2014 playoffs.
It remains to be seen if the pattern of teams being unable to hold onto big leads continues when the series switches to Los Angeles for game six Thursday night at the Staples Centre.
The Clippers levelled the series Sunday thanks to a furious rally in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City by 16 in the fourth before Darren Collison sparked a thrilling comeback that gave Los Angeles a 101-99 win.
Late in the fourth quarter Tuesday, Durant made a three-pointer and then a layup in transition. Westbrook jarred the ball loose from Paul near the sideline and Thunder guard Reggie Jackson ended up with it.
He dribbled into the paint and bumped Matt Barnes, losing the ball out of bounds.
Officials awarded the ball to Oklahoma City, Westbrook went up for a three-point attempt and was fouled by Paul. Westbrook made all three free throws for the Thunder’s first lead since the second quarter.
Paul then tried to dribble between Jackson and Serge Ibaka at the other end and lost the ball on the final play of the game.
The Sterling controversy began last month when the American gossip show TMZ released an audio of owner Sterling telling his girlfriend that she should not bring black people to Clipper games.
In the weeks that followed, the NBA banned Sterling from the league and fined him $2.5 million. Last week the league appointed an interim chief executive to run the Clippers.