Three teams faced elimination on Thursday. All three times managed to win and force their series to the brink. Most notably, Kevin Durant stepped up after a newspaper headline questioned him, leading Oklahoma City to a blowout win over Memphis.
Oklahoma City Thunder Recap
104 - 84 Tied 3-3
Los Angeles Clippers Recap
Golden State Warriors Recap
99 - 100 Tied 3-3
5 things to know
Game 7s everywhere
We had three elimination games on Thursday, and all three teams down a game rallied to win. That means we'll have three Game 7s on Saturday for the first time ever. And we're probably not done there: Friday features three elimination games, too. We could end up with up to three Game 7s on Sunday, too.
If so, it'd be a perfect exclamation mark to a first round riddled with them. The basketball has been beyond compelling, with gobs of overtime, few nights ending before 1 a.m. Eastern and a variety of storylines. The West, in particular, is just nutty, with every series going to at least six games. If Dallas and Houston win on Friday, all four Western first round series will go the distance. There's really nothing easy in this conference.
Once the weekend ends and we move on to the second round, we'll find out if this postseason will end up among the most entertaining ever or if we've already seen the best it has. I, for one, am not losing my faith in the Basketball Gods just yet. -Tom Ziller
The controversy over the "Mr. Unreliable" headline was silly. Silly because this is a team game and no one person should bear the brunt of the blame for a series loss, much less someone as good as Kevin Durant. Silly because newspapers have published similar attention-grabbing headlines in the past (anyone remember "Choke City?") and none of them backed down as lamely as The Oklahoman did.
It's fitting, then, that it'll get tons of grief after Durant dropped 36 in a dominant Thunder performance on the road to avoid elimination. For once, Durant and Russell Westbrook didn't force things, accepting what the Grizzlies defense gave them, making the right reads and shooting shots in rhythm instead of while being swarmed. Scott Brooks -- who, truth be told, deserved more of the blame than Durant for the Thunder's 3-2 deficit -- made a shrewd adjustment, inserting Caron Butler into the starting lineup and tethering Thabo Sefolosha to the bench. Butler's spacing opened up the floor, allowing Durant and Westbrook to go to work. Brooks also finally played rookie Steven Adams, who rewarded Brooks' trust with five blocks in 16 minutes.
The series is not over and Memphis will surely come out strong in Saturday's Game 7, so Durant isn't quite off the hook yet. But hopefully this is a lesson in assigning too much blame (and credit) to one player in a team game. -Mike Prada
Mr. West is in the building
David West, the only member of the Pacers’ starting five whose reputation has remained unscathed during their unfathomable slide, is known as the team’s conscience and vocal leader. It was fitting that it was West who rescued Indiana from a fourth-quarter tailspin and helped the Pacers’ stave off elimination against the Hawks. Down five late in the game, West scored six of the next nine points to cap off a 24-point, 11-rebound performance.
West’s efforts will be a sidebar tomorrow because coach Frank Vogel finally adjusted his rotation to account for Atlanta’s small-ball approach. He effectively benched Roy Hibbert, keeping the All-Star center on the bench to start the second half and limiting him to just 12 minutes of court time. Vogel actually did bench Luis Scola and Evan Turner, giving those minutes to Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson in smallish lineups.
Even with those much-needed adjustments, as well as strong outings from Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the Pacers’ season came down to West. There are many players who talk a good game and many more who strive to do the right thing, but West is one of the few who commands respect precisely because he means what he says and does what he means. Thanks to West, there will be a Game 7 and a chance for the Pacers to make something out of this postseason. -Paul Flannery
Do the right thing, Adam Silver
George Hill and Mike Scott were going for the box out on a missed Jeff Teague three-pointer in the second quarter Thursday when the two got tangled up and things escalated. Hill came charging up to Scott with his finger out and pointed so hard he actually poked the Hawks forward in the face. That set off Scott, who used two hands to shove Hill in the chin as referees and coaches had to separate the two players.
The fracas happened right in front of the Pacers bench, with Rasual Butler and Paul George both standing up and making a slight move toward the fight. Twitter exploded with theories about how George might be suspended for Game 7 on Saturday, dredging up memories of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals. In that series, the Spurs' Robert Horry infamously hip checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table, and due to an arcane NBA rule, Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended from Game 5 for running to protect their teammate. The Suns went on to lose the next two games and the series, 4-2.
Adam Silver took a stand on Tuesday, not only against Donald Sterling, but for himself as a new kind of commissioner for the NBA. When David Stern handed out the suspension for Stoudemire and Diaw in 2007, it was seen as unrelenting punishment without conscience to intent, context or empathy. His decision not only altered an entire series, but potentially the results of the rest of the playoffs. Here's to hoping that Silver again sets himself apart from his predecessor when reviewing the tape. Let's hope Silver takes the route of fairness and doesn't adhere to a strict adaptation that could hurt the on-court product he's worked so hard to build this season. -Dane Carbaugh
Ball don't lie, you know, and when ball's really feeling virtuous, ball don't let petty nonsense dictate a game. The Warriors beat the Clippers by one point Thursday night/Friday morning, but they didn't do that because of Andre Iguodala's four-point play in the final minutes. Ball graciously made sure Iguodala's add-on free throw didn't drop, saving us so much handwringing over an egregious flop in the final minutes.
And hooo-wee, was that egregious. Blake Griffin's gentle poke at Iguodala's thigh as the shot went up probably wasn't enough for a whistle, but Iguodala collapsing like Griffin had flipped some LEG BONES: OFF switch made it so. But it didn't decide the game, at least not beyond fouling Griffin out, which is nice, because that would have been annoying.
That's now 14 four-point opportunities in the first round, which is absurdly high, and I say that as someone who counts a questionable four-point play among the greatest sports moments of my whole life. So, I guess the ball lied for me once. Not for the Warriors. They didn't need it. -Seth Rosenthal
Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Toronto leads 3-2 | 7 p.m., ESPN2 Barclays Center, New York, N.Y.
San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks San Antonio leads 3-2 | 8 p.m., ESPN American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers Portland leads 3-2 | 10:30 p.m., ESPN MODA Center, Portland, Ore.