The Oklahoma City Thunder almost coughed up a fourth-quarter lead again. They probably should have. Up by one with 13.5 seconds left and possession, Dion Waiters turned the ball over on the inbounds pass after elbowing Manu Ginobili on the court in what should have likely been a foul call.
For once, though, the Thunder came out on the right side of a fourth-quarter fiasco. After giving up a fourth-quarter lead in 15 losses this season, Waiters wasn't called for a foul and the San Antonio Spurs couldn't capitalize on the Thunder mistake as Oklahoma City held on for a 98-97 win to even their second-round playoff series, 1-1.
It wasn't only luck for the Thunder, however. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played the type of game that is going to be needed of them if Oklahoma City is going to have a chance to win an NBA championship. The two stars were superb in outlasting a monster performance from LaMarcus Aldridge as they turned the tide in a series that left them for dead just one game ago.
Aldridge had 41 points and eight rebounds on 15-of-21 shooting, but it was a combined 57 points from Westbrook (29 points) and Durant (28) that carried the Thunder. After throwing up dud performances in Game 1, it was exactly the type of game the two Thunder stars needed to keep their season alive.
To go along with his 29 points, Westbrook had 10 assists and seven rebounds. He was his usual relentless self, and it saved the Thunder on multiple occasions. The Thunder sometimes aren't exactly sure what to do with their two stars in crunch time, but Westbrook and Durant answered that question Monday by playing like they always do. Westbrook attacked:
Go Russ Go! https://t.co/19Vc5RwlH4— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) May 3, 2016
Durant let the game come to him, and was an assassin with his shot when he needed to be.
The Thunder deserve a lot of credit -- this is a game they would normally had been known to give away. Durant, Westbrook and a hectic final play made sure that wasn't happening this time around. And now, they have home-court advantage against a team that finished the regular season 40-1 in their home arena.
Regardless of a little bit of luck or a missed call, the Thunder are right where they want to be. No champion gets to the top without a few cards falling in their favor. The Thunder caught some breaks on Monday, but most of the praise should be on the play of Westbrook and Durant, who once again led their team to a huge win in the playoffs. Now, they're in a five-game series with the Spurs, and they have home-court advantage.
2 other things
The Atlanta Hawks are making things interesting against the Cleveland Cavaliers
The Hawks nearly came back from 18 points down to stun the Cavaliers, but LeBron James was too much down the stretch as Cleveland held on for a 104-93 win to take a 1-0 series lead. James had 25 points, nine assists and seven rebounds to lead the Cavaliers. The Hawks nearly stole one from Cleveland despite poor performances from their starters. Dennis Schroder had 27 points off the bench, while Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Kyle Korver combined for 21 points on 6-for-23 shooting. Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore had solid nights, but the Hawks have a lot of room to improve. After being swept by the Cavaliers in last season's Eastern Conference Finals, this year's version of the Hawks is a much different bunch. They might not take the Cavaliers out of the playoffs, but they are going to put up one heck of a fight.
The Cavaliers have a stopper in J.R. Smith
Smith is known for his scoring, but he was a superb defender on Monday night. He hawked Korver all night, holding Atlanta's hot shooting guard to 0-for-1 shooting. He wasn't the only Cleveland player to defend Korver, but Smith did a fantastic job of shadowing each and every Korver move. The three-point specialist normally shakes loose for at least one or two transition threes, but he couldn't get any openings in Game 1.
Smith's play is a good sign moving forward for the Cavaliers. If they have to face a healthy Golden State Warriors team, he could be instrumental in shutting down a player like Klay Thompson. Thompson can threaten from more spots on the floor than the three-point line -- as compared to Korver -- but Smith as a defensive stalwart is a huge boost for the Cavaliers.
Play of the night
LeBron James had a few defensive gaffes, but he was everything for the Cavaliers on offense. These two dimes to Richard Jefferson were otherworldly, but they've become expected from James every night.