By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – By halftime of Game 5 Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season was being played out in slow motion.
Nothing was going right and there looked to be no way their season would last past midnight.
But then something happened. Whether it was a switch being flipped or the bitter reality of the situation hitting them in the face, the Thunder stormed back from being 25 points down to defeat the Utah Jazz 107-99 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I really don’t have any words for it. I’ve been in the league for 13 years and it’s probably one of the most amazing games I’ve ever been a part of,” Thunder guard Raymond Felton said. “To feel that feeling, that atmosphere, the crowd was amazing, my teammates were amazing.”
With 8:32 left in the third quarter and the Thunder trailing by 25 points, Russell Westbrook, the still-reigning MVP, got hot. He drained back-to-back 3-pointers to stop Utah’s momentum and in the process, ignited Oklahoma City.
The Thunder continued to chip away at the Jazz lead. Westbrook and Paul George were the main culprits in the ferocious comeback as they tied the game at 78-78 by the end of the quarter.
“I think a 25-point lead in the NBA is not safe, especially when you’ve got two guys like Russell and Paul George that can do what they did,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “I thought the two threes that Westbrook hit were big shots, and then Paul George followed up with a three-point play, and all of a sudden a 25-point lead is a 16-point lead, and they found a rhythm.”
It was the exact opposite for Utah. After being on fire in the first half, they cooled off in the second. Rudy Gobert went out of the game with foul trouble and that opened the paint for Oklahoma City and the Thunder took advantage.
“I got in foul trouble early in the game,” Gobert said. “I had a few stupid fouls that were on me. The fourth foul was too easy for them and that is on me. I’ve got to be smarter and avoid those first three fouls and not put my team in this position.”
In the second half, the Thunder shot 52 percent from the field and 63 percent from behind the 3-point line. When Gobert came back into the game and Utah started to hit some shots in the fourth quarter, it was too late.
“Just being competitive, play until there’s nothing on the clock,” George said. “I think you guys have seen that on a nightly basis with one of the best to do that in Russ. It’s just being a competitor. You play until there’s no more time on the clock.”
Westbrook was in full attack mode and no one was going to slow him down. Over the final 20:30 of the game, Westbrook outscored the Jazz 33-28.
“Just staying aggressive man and just trying to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “Same shots I have been getting, I just have to concentrate on making them. We got shots when we needed to. I thought our team did a good job of staying together through it all.”
Westbrook ended the night with 45 points on 17 of 39 shooting. He also had 15 rebounds and seven assists.
George threw in 34 points, eight rebounds and two steals. No other [player reached double figures.
“I think tonight with the magnitude of the game and the excitement to come back we played off each other very well,” Westbrook said of him and George. “We made big plays. Paul made big plays down the stretch and stayed in attack mode. It was good tonight.”
Jae Crowder paced the Jazz with 27 points. However, he scored only 12 after the first quarter.
Rookie Donovan Mitchell posted 23 points on 9 of 22 shooting. Joe Ingles added 16 points in the defeat.
“We stopped playing defense. We stopped getting back. The offense got stagnant,” Mitchell said. “They made adjustments and we didn’t make the right adjustments back. We will watch the film and figure out what went wrong, but my analysis right after the game is we stopped getting back in transition and they just fed off of that.”
With the win Oklahoma City forced a Game 6 in Utah Friday. Once again their playoffs lives will be on the line in a win or go home situation.
“We know it’s one game at a time,” Westbrook said. “In the playoffs, you have to be able to win on the road if you want to win the series. We know what we have to do. Go there and take care of business.”
According to Thunder coach Billy Donovan, he doesn’t believe in momentum carrying over game to game. The bad traits that got them down by 25 points in the first place have to be eliminated.
“Once tomorrow starts, this is over with. You’ve got a whole different set of things, so I don’t look at it like we’re carrying any momentum,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to go in there and we’ve got to play and play better. This is a team that had us down by 25 points. Now, I’m obviously thrilled with the comeback and it was a great job, but you get down 25 points on the road, that’s hard to overcome, and we were fortunate, our crowd got behind us and we made some shots, but I don’t look it at like, okay, we’re riding some momentum wave.”
Donovan had every right to try and push the brakes on the celebration. He has watched this team look great at times only to come back the next game and resemble a squad in preseason form.
“We’ve got to come back and do it again,” Donovan said. “And this has been this team’s greatest challenge is the consistency to be able to come back the next game and do it again over and over and over, and that’s what’s going to be required to continue to advance the series.”