There’s a reason why having the best player – or two – in a playoff series can be a massive advantage. For stretches, those players can take over games and swing a series.
The heroics of Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Game 5 may not have swung their series with the Utah Jazz, but they kept the Oklahoma City Thunder alive for another day when it seemed like all hope was lost.
With their backs against the wall and elimination appearing to be a certainty, the duo exploded in the second half to dig the Thunder out of a 25-point hole and win 107-99 to send the series back to Utah for Game 6.
Over the final 20:30 on Wednesday, Oklahoma City outscored the Jazz 61-28, with Westbrook and George accounting for 54 of those points on 20-of-35 shooting.
Up until that point, Utah had outscored the Thunder 71-46, with Westbrook and George combining for 25 points on just 9-of-30 shooting.
While Oklahoma City’s defence tightening the screws had plenty to do with the comeback, it was mostly a case of the Thunder’s stars getting hot at the right time.
Westbrook, who had shot just 34.6 per cent overall and 3-of-16 on 3-pointers before the Thunder flipped the script in the third quarter of Game 5, suddenly found his stroke and nailed 3-of-4 mid-range jumpers and 5-of-7 from long range in the second half on Wednesday.
George, meanwhile, had his best shooting game since the series opener as the resurgence of Oklahoma City’s two leaders coincided.
While George’s shooting was hardly an aberration, the same can’t be said for Westbrook, who is incredibly streaky.
It was enough to sustain the Thunder for one night, but Westbrook will likely have to stay hot if Oklahoma City want to advance.
LeBron puts on his cape
Just in case you weren’t fully sure that LeBron James has to do literally everything for the Cleveland Cavaliers to have success in these playoffs, the end of Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers provided more than enough evidence.
Like he did in Game 2, James carried the Cavaliers with 44 points on 14-of-24 shooting, while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing eight assists.
His best work was saved for the very end, when he blocked Victor Oladpio’s potential go-ahead layup with 3.3 seconds left before nailing a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the 98-95 win.
Cleveland are now 3-2 up in the series and look as if they will survive this round, but it’s also appearing more and more as if they have an expiry date that, for once, precedes the NBA Finals.
James has been great when he’s needed to, averaging 40.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 61.4 per cent shooting in wins this postseason. But when he’s been just good and not off-the-charts ridiculous – 26.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 10.0 assists and 43.6 per cent shooting in losses – the Cavaliers haven’t had an answer.
As phenomenal as James is, the way he’s had to put the team on his back repeatedly isn’t sustainable for many more rounds, let alone to reach his eighth straight Finals.
The Cavaliers had 89 offensive plays when LeBron James was on the court Wednesday. He touched the ball on 80 of those.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 26, 2018
On the nine plays without a James touch, the Cavaliers were 0-of-5 with two turnovers and two fouls drawn.
Wizards go ice cold
Just when it seemed like the Raptors were about to disappoint again and drop three straight games to be on the brink of elimination after going up 2-0, Washington folded.
The Wizards were up by five in the fourth when their shooting abandoned them, as they hit 4-of-17 overall and 1-of-9 from deep in the final 8:50 of the game to be outscored 26-11 over that span.
The teams’ star-studded backcourts mostly cancelled each other out – as they often have this series – with the difference-maker once again coming off Toronto’s bench.
Delon Wright had 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 26 minutes, following up his 18-point performance in the series opener to once again give the Raptors the edge. C.J. Miles was the key reserve in Game when he had 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
It’s no surprise that Toronto’s bench has been a barometer for this series after being so vital in the regular season.
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