Clippers take lessons from last year's playoff loss to the Thunder

Clippers take lessons from last year's playoff loss to the Thunder
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook steals the ball from Clippers point guard Chris Paul late in the fourth quarter in Game 5 of the playoffs last season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

At the beginning of this season, the Clippers relived a very unpleasant experience.

They re-watched their Game 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a second-round playoff series in which they blew a seven-point lead in the final 49.2 seconds.

That loss forced the Clippers to play an elimination Game 6 that ended their season.

"One of the first things we did this year was watch the last four minutes of that game, whatever the score was when we were up and had our biggest lead, we watched every possession after that and kind of evaluated the defensive possessions, and we evaluated the offensive possessions," J.J. Redick said Monday. 

"One of the things that we learned, and that I think we've gotten better at this year, is that when we have a lead in the fourth quarter, we always talk about making your defense use clock, as opposed to your offense dribbling, until the last three to five seconds on the shot clock.

"If they're going to score, you want it to be in the last five seconds of their shot clock, not having quick scores. The Oklahoma City game is a great example. I think they had two or three of their buckets in their comeback the first five seconds of their shot clock, even off inbounds plays. I know [Kevin Durant] hit a three off an inbound play. That was a big lesson we learned."

According to the numbers, the Clippers are actually slightly worse this year than they were last year at keeping fourth-quarter leads. Last year, they were 52-4 when winning at the end of the third quarter, compared to 44-11 this year.

But the Clippers have improved from last season in fighting back from fourth-quarter deficits, and winning when entering the fourth quarter tied. The Clippers are 7-15 when losing going into the fourth quarter this season, compared to 3-19 last season. And they are 4-0 when entering the fourth quarter tied, compared to 2-2 last season.


Overall, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers thinks that the Clippers have improved in fourth-quarter play.


"Even when we're playing well, and the other team is playing well, and it's a one-point game, we've shown the ability far better than last year to close out games and that's nice to have," Rivers said.

The Clippers have won seven games in a row and 14 of their last 15 games, only losing to the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in that stretch.

In the Clippers' 110-106 loss to the Warriors on March 31, they blew a 17-point lead. In their next game, however, they overcame a 19-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers in Portland on April 1, 126-122.

In two of the team's last four wins, over the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers, the Clippers defended one-point leads late in the fourth quarter to win. In the Clippers' penultimate game of the season, a 110-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday, the Clippers went on a 14-1 after trailing 96-90 with six minutes left to get the win. In the Clippers' final game of the season, a 112-101 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, the Clippers led by as many as 30 points before the Suns made a late run to cut the Clippers' lead to just 11 with two minutes left, but the Clippers held on for the victory.

The Clippers have shown late in the season that they're willing and able to do whatever it takes to win when it counts, hence why they're one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

"We execute better, so much better, this year than last year down the stretch of games," Rivers said. "We trust better, so much better, this year. I think that will hopefully serve us well in the playoffs."

The Clippers are currently in second place in the Western Conference, a half a game ahead of the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs, both of which play in their final game Wednesday.