Leading by seven with under five minutes to go, the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared poised to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their series with the Los Angeles Clippers. The home team Clippers, however, got some late help from an unlikely source on their way to a 101-99 win on Sunday.
For the most part, the reserve guard has been having a postseason to forget. He was erratic in the team’s opening-round series with the Golden State Warriors, shooting well below his season average from the field of just under 47 percent. His scoring has been down as a result and that’s led to Doc Rivers cutting his minutes in the playoffs.
Things haven’t been much better this series against the favored Thunder. Collison turned in a solid Game 2 performance scoring a series-high 13 points, but was dismal in Games 1 and 3, scoring a combined five. That included a scoreless night in 11 forgettable minutes for Los Angeles in Game 3, which was easily the fewest he’d played in a postseason game this year. Really, it begged the question of how much he’d play the rest of the series.
For his part, the coach didn’t give up on him — and it paid off handsomely on Sunday.
Collison had his best game of the playoffs at precisely the right time, scoring a postseason-high 18 points. It wasn’t so much how much he scored, rather when he did that was the difference in the game.
The guard willed his team to victory and was the single biggest reason the series isn’t effectively over since a 3-1 deficit with two more games in Oklahoma City would almost have certainly been too much to overcome. Trailing 88-81, he grabbed a rebound and after drawing a foul, hit two free throws to cut the lead to five. After both teams traded points, Collison scored on a dunk and added two more free throws, cutting the deficit to one.
With the game tied, Collison scored the Clippers’ final four points on two layups to put them ahead for good. A Russell Westbrook three-pointer at the buzzer missed and Los Angeles rallied back to win the game and tie the series.
It wasn’t merely Collison’s late-game scoring that won the game, either. The Clippers also were successful at rebounding — something that has been a problem for the team against Oklahoma City. Los Angeles won the battle on the boards for the first time in the series and Collison excelled there, too. His seven rebounds were the most of any bench player on either side and was as many as any Thunder player (Kevin Durant led the team with seven).
Collison has been far too inconsistent, leading me to believe that he’s still susceptible to some drastic swings in his play the rest of the postseason. His heroics on Sunday, though, were the single biggest reason this series isn’t over.