OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder’s season was over. Stick a fork in ’em, see ya next season, good riddance over. With 8:34 remaining in the third quarter Wednesday night in Game 5, Jae Crowder drilled a 25-foot 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 25-point lead, their biggest of the game. It felt like the butcher knife being jammed squarely into OKC’s tired, confused backs.
This wasn’t a Thunder-on-the-ropes situation. The Thunder were as good as done. A 71-46 advantage for Utah appeared insurmountable midway through the third quarter. OKC’s defensive rotations were off, its offense stagnated, and its stars, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, were duller than the dagger Crowder used to try and end their season.
This was how a tumultuous season filled with highs and lows was going to end. A full-blown tailspin.
But OKC’s incredible surge over the final 8:34 of the third quarter — a 32-7 run — scribbled out what was going to be a thud of an ending. Instead, the Thunder etched their names into the record books by keying a comeback that guaranteed them one more game after a 107-99 victory.
“I think it took a lot of toughness, a lot of resiliency, especially being down 3-1, to keep fighting and find a way at the end of the third to be right there in the game,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Give them a lot of credit. We’re excited about another opportunity to play, extend the series, but we’ll have to play a lot better than we did in the first half, and we’re going to need more of 48 minutes like we did in the second half.”
There are innumerable ways to explain how this comeback — the largest in Thunder history, and the third largest in playoff history — was completed. Rudy Gobert’s foul trouble and absence played a role, as did OKC’s newly resurrected defense that came alive in the third quarter. But it all boils down to what OKC’s stars did when their backs were against the wall.
Russell Westbrook scored 45 points — 33 in the second half — and co-star Paul George poured in 34 to keep OKC’s season afloat for at least one more game. They weren’t going down tonight. At least not without a fight.
“We went out there and gave it everything we had, and we came out victorious this time,” Thunder guard Raymond Felton said. “I have no words, just an amazing game. I’m on cloud nine, I’m excited and I’m ready to go out there and take care of business.”
The Thunder’s season might very well end in disappointment. Perhaps this result only delayed the inevitability of this up-and-down Thunder season imminently ending. After all, it required an historic comeback to force a Game 6. And they have yet to win on the road this postseason in two tries.
But Wednesday in Oklahoma City, the Thunder pushed their chips to the table rather than fold.
“Down 25, you know, what else could we do,” Paul George said. “Just give energy, give effort, go all out. We just had to dig deep.”
The Thunder needed all 48 minutes to fall hard, get back up swinging, and eventually knock out the Jazz. Now it’s on to Game 6 on Friday when, once again, it’s win or go home for OKC in a Salt Lake City venue that has been its own special house of horrors this postseason.
“It’s one game at a time,” Russell 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. We have to go there and take care of business.”