After blowing a big lead late against the Thunder in Game 5, the Clippers are now in a do-or-die situation. Our 5-on-5 writers and editors look back at the Clippers' collapse and ahead to tonight's crucial Game 6.
1. If the Clippers lose, does Chris Paul deserve the most blame?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Yes. That's the price of greatness. He got the credit for the Clippers' victories in Game 1 (with his eight 3-pointers) and Game 4 (with his defensive tenacity), but the flip side is that the Game 5 collapse is on him.
Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: No. While Paul would be the likely scapegoat, the Clippers' porous defense, which has registered an abysmal 110.7 defensive rating, deserves the blame. The wings, in particular, have played matador defense, continuously giving Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson undeterred paths to the rim. Also, critics are quick to forget CP3's dominant Game 1 performance and efficient play throughout the series.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: $21,468,695. That's the average annual value of Chris Paul's deal, highest on the team. Part and parcel of that enormous paycheck is the burden of being held responsible (rightly or wrongly) for the team's failure. But if we're going to "blame" him for the loss, we have to remember if it wasn't for Paul, there would be no Game 6 to lose.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: No. Paul blew Game 5, and in a seven-game series, one player nearly single-handedly losing a game is catastrophically bad. But if it wasn't for Paul, the Clippers' season would have already ended. I'm not blaming him for putting himself into a position to fail against another really good team deep into the playoffs. Blame Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for being just a little better.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: No, but yes. We tend to always point the finger at a team's best player when there's failure, and the sting of how Game 5 ended will forever linger with Paul unless the Clippers come back in the series. But this isn't on him. The Clippers are nothing without him on the floor this series (in 53 minutes, they're a minus-38.4 per 100 possessions with him on the bench), and will have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to blame most if they go down.
2. Where does Game 5 rank among the Clippers' biggest disappointments?
Adande: It's the worst ... or at least tied for the worst with their Game 5 loss in Phoenix in 2006. That pretty much takes care of the list. One thing about a franchise that has known futility for most of its existence is there haven't been many opportunities to be disappointed.
Buha: No. 1. Excluding numerous off-court controversies and freak injuries, the only comparable moment is Game 5 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals in Phoenix, when Daniel Ewing -- who had no business being on the floor -- gave up a game-tying 3-pointer to Raja Bell. The Clippers lost that game in double-overtime and eventually lost the series. But even that wasn't as egregious as what transpired Tuesday.
Elhassan: Are you kidding me? Biggest disappointments for the Clippers?! Game 5 is one of the highlights of this moribund franchise since moving west from Buffalo!
Feldman: If Los Angeles loses the series, somewhere between Donald Sterling casting a dark cloud over the franchise and the team drafting Michael Olowokandi. Even if the Clippers had taken Dirk Nowitzki No. 1 in 1998, the team was too dysfunctional to do anything other that impede Nowitzki's development and waste his talent. The stakes are considerably higher now. These Clippers can win a championship, and Game 5 is a severe setback. That said, if Los Angeles advances, Game 5 will be forgotten by next year's playoffs.
Young: Probably at the top, because the history of the Clippers hasn't presented too many postseason disappointments. You could go another direction and say one of their whiffed drafted picks was more disappointing (Benoit Benjamin, Lorenzen Wright, Michael Olowokandi), but the Clippers have never been to the West finals, and they had an actual opportunity to seize the moment but let it slip.
3. Who is the fifth-best player on the floor in this series?
Adande: Serge Ibaka. His 20-point explosion was a big factor in the Thunder's Game 3 victory, forcing the Clippers to pay more attention to him on defense, and he's come up with timely blocked shots throughout the series.
Buha: Serge Ibaka. His stellar post defense against Blake Griffin has been underappreciated, as he's contained the Clippers' top offensive option in primarily single coverage. What sets him apart, though, is that he also has been a dangerous spot-up shooter on the weakside, connecting on 54.5 percent of his midrange jumpers.
Elhassan: Kendrick Perkins ... I'm kidding! Not enough is said about the impact Serge Ibaka has defensively for the Thunder. A big part of why Blake Griffin has had his struggles this series is because of Ibaka's individual defense, and he has been excellent in pick-and-roll coverage, helping head off dribble penetration by the Clippers' guards and contesting at the rim.
Feldman: Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has really challenged Blake Griffin defensively. Griffin is shooting 65 percent when Ibaka is on the bench and 43 percent when Ibaka plays. On the other end, Ibaka is shooting 64 percent, reliably making shots at the rim and from midrange. For a team lacking two-way players to complement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Ibaka is stepping up.
Young: Serge Ibaka. His Game 3 (20 points on 9-for-10 shooting) proved how effective he can be when consistently involved in the offense. He hasn't been swatting shots in his customary way, but he has been decently solid in defending the bulldozer that is Blake Griffin.
4. Is the West's best team playing in this series?
Adande: No, the West's best team is resting right now. The San Antonio Spurs are the most reliable team in the West. The Thunder are capable of hitting peaks that are higher than the Spurs' top levels; the question is if Oklahoma City can maintain those moments consistently.
Buha: No. The West's best team resides near the River Walk. After inexplicably going the distance with the Mavs, the Spurs regrouped against the Blazers and appear unbeatable again. Meanwhile, the Clippers and Thunder have looked oddly mortal in the first two rounds. If it's any consolation, the West's most talented team, the Thunder, is playing in this series.
Elhassan: The West's best team plays in a town with a filthy open sewer that they call a "river," and they're at home waiting for the winner of this series.
Feldman: Only if Tony Parker is out. Otherwise, it's the Spurs. Whoever wins this series has a solid chance against San Antonio -- especially the Thunder, who match up well -- because the gap is small. But the Spurs are absolutely rolling offensive and defensively. Gregg Popovich belongs in "Spinal Tap." After a perfect-10 regular season, he's somehow turned San Antonio up to 11.
Young: No. The Thunder seem to have the Spurs' numbers (went 4-0 this season and have won 10 of the past 12), but the Spurs' obliteration of the Trail Blazers can't be overlooked. It was a surgical takedown, and while Oklahoma City has the best player in the West, the Spurs still have the best team until further notice.
5. Who wins Game 6?
Adande: The Clippers. They've responded well to peril throughout these playoffs. One area they have to tighten up is their closing of quarters; the end of Game 5 was the most glaring example, but not the only one. They were outscored 30-13 in the final two minutes of quarters in that game.
Buha: The Clippers. They've outplayed the Thunder in 53 of the past 57 minutes of the series, and while that's certainly a small sample size, it seems as though they've finally figured out how to attack the Thunder's pack-the-paint defense. Riding the emotional letdown of Game 5, the Clips benefit from the energy of their crowd and get just enough stops to force a Game 7.
Elhassan: This one's going to Game 7. As Patrick Ewing famously said, "See you on Sunday."
Feldman: The Clippers. As you've surely heard, the Game 5 winner of a 2-2 best-of-seven series typically wins the series. However, the home team usually wins Game 6. The Thunder narrowly winning a home game Tuesday doesn't suddenly make them the favorites in Los Angeles tonight. These teams are too equal for that.
Young: Clippers. Watching Chris Paul emotionally distraught after Game 5 makes it hard for me to see the Clippers bouncing back, but I picked the Thunder to win the series in seven, so I'm sticking with myself.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
J.A. Adande covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Amin Elhassan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Jovan Buha, Dan Feldman and Royce Young are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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