The NBA family was not going to crack. In the face of an overt villain, the league banded together and sent a loud message against social inequality when it banned Donald Sterling for life on Tuesday afternoon.
Later at night, the players quickly got back to basketball and showcased another incredible version of first-round brilliance. The Clippers rejuvenated their franchise and then won a momentous Game 5 against the Warriors to move one win away from the second round. And if they do advance, it appears they may be facing the team that ousted them last year, as the Grizzlies took a decisive 3-2 advantage with an overtime win against the Thunder.
On the other side of the bracket, the Wizards became the second team from the East to advance, putting the limping Bulls out of their misery. They join the Heat as the only other team to have moved on so far, and unless the Trail Blazers beat the Rockets on Wednesday, every other series will go at least six games.
CLIPPERS 113, WARRIORS 103
Clippers lead series 3-2
Takeaway: Donald Sterling wasn’t anywhere near the Clippers when they won Game 5 on Tuesday. The lifetime ban earlier in the day signaled a new era for the Clippers, and it was fitting that ditching Sterling resulted in a win. As the Clippers pushed away from a dark cloud, they were able to further flex their muscles against the smaller Warriors.
The team navigated its emotions well, winning 50-50 balls, sprinting into the fastbreak off turnovers and answering every Warriors’ mini-run with a big shot. The Clippers looked like themselves again in Game 5.
Star review: DeAndre Jordan admitted his team was distracted in Game 4, and perhaps no one more than him considering he had 0 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes in that game. But on Tuesday, he responded with 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks and even hit free throws down the stretch.
Looking ahead: Game 6 at Golden State, Thursday, 10:30 p.m. EST
The Clippers never allowed Stephen Curry to get going, blanketing his shooting and flustering his ball handling. Curry nearly had as many turnovers (8) as he had shot attempts (10). The Clippers trapped whenever they could and kept the ball out of his hands late in possessions. The Warriors found success using Curry as a decoy, creating misdirection with the pick-and-roll and then hitting weak-side cutters. But they need more from their superstar in Game 6 at home. When Curry unleashes that 3-point beast, it roars through the Oracle crowd and down the Warriors roster. He needs to force shots early to get himself and the team going.
Takeaway: The difference in the fourth overtime matchup of this series was a tenth of a second on a just-late Serge Ibaka put-back and a missed Kevin Durant free throw. While the Ibaka call was made correctly, the free throw situation was screwy. Super veteran Joey Crawford made it clear he’s the next guy the NBA needs to retire. With 27.5 seconds to play in OT, Durant had just made his first of two free throws to make it 100-99 in favor or Memphis when Crawford walked over to the scorer’s table to start barking about team fouls. The bizarre moment crushed the rhythm of Durant, an 87-percent free-throw shooter, and the league’s best scorer missed his second free throw. It ended up costing OKC the game.
Star review: The fishy official is a good excuse, but Durant still has to own most of the blame (and he did in postgame interviews). He is an amazing player, but Durant simply hasn’t been good enough this series. He didn’t get many touches down the stretch, but he had enough to get it done and did not. Remember that pressure that once weighed on the shoulders of LeBron James? Well, it’s now sitting fully on the more narrow shoulders of Durant. Russell Westbrook feels it too, despite his game-saving steal and bucket that sent the game to overtime. The Thunder’s two superstars combined for 20-of-55 (36 percent) shooting in Game 5.
Looking ahead: Game 6 at Memphis, Thursday, 8 p.m. EST
None of this is to overlook what Memphis is doing. Credit Tony Allen’s defense on Durant. Credit the middle of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in clogging the lane. And credit the Grizzlies for ultimately clinging to a game they tried so hard to give away, even relinquishing a 20-point lead. Now the series returns to Memphis where the Grizzlies are so tough. They also have history in their favor, as the team that wins Game 5 has an 83-percent chance at winning the series.
WIZARDS 75, BULLS 69
Wizards win series 4-1
Takeaway: It must have felt liberating when the Wizards finally shed that massive chip off their shoulder. So much for the inexperience of that young John Wall and Bradley Beal backcourt. So much for lacking the intensity of the Bulls. And so much for Randy Wittman being massively outmatched by Tom Thibodeau. The Wizards fought, of course, but they also somewhat cruised to the series win in five games. Chicago’s 69 points in its final game was fitting for an offense that simply never had enough to compete. As good as that defense can be, it’s worthless if the Bulls can’t even score in the 70s. The season-long absence of a legit star scorer finally caught up with them. It was also appropriate that this latest injury-hindered Bulls season ended with Joakim Noah playing hurt in the second half and Taj Gibson leaving late with an ankle injury.
Star review: Wall and Beal are going to start thinking this postseason thing is too easy. The duo grew better with each game of the series, and their combined 41 points and 8 assists in Game 5 are just a glimpse of this pair’s potential. The real difference maker was the presence of Nene, who had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
Looking ahead: Wizards face the winner of the Pacers-Hawks series.
There’s a very realistic chance Washington will play in the Eastern Conference finals this season. The Wizards’ positioning as the No. 5 seed is paying off thanks to the continuing crumble of Indiana. Whether they play the right-place-at-right-time, losing-record Hawks or a fragile Pacers team that manages to barely persevere, the Wizards should be Vegas favorites in the second round. Who saw that one coming?