LOS ANGELES – Rihanna was there to see it. Justin Bieber and Floyd "Money" Mayweather too.
Even Magic Johnson – the Los Angeles Lakers legend who only came back to the Staples Center because shamed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling received the lifetime ban he deserves – was there on the day they saved their season by tying the Western Conference Semifinals with the Oklahoma City Thunder series up 2-2.
BOX SCORE: Clippers 101, Thunder 99
But when Clippers point guard Chris Paul came running to his brother's baseline seat after the final buzzer of their 101-99 win, with C.J. Paul having his chest pounded by his ebullient younger brother after he had led the way in this remarkable 22-point comeback, all that mattered was that they'd all be back. All that talk of which deep-pocketed celebrity in attendance would wind up owning these Clippers was about to be front and center, with the Clippers facing the daunting historical reality that NBA teams that have gone down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have lost 96.3% of the time.
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Sterling had sat down for his first interview on this day, and his wife, Shelly, was telling anyone who would listen that she would fight for her share as well. And then – after the furious fourth quarter and postgame bedlam that had the locals claiming a Clippers game has never been this loud – it was back to basketball again. Game 5 of this suddenly-compelling series is on Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
"This is one of the best ones yet," said Paul, who had 23 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. "We got off to a very slow start. Even in the fourth quarter, we could have relaxed, you know, gave in at any point? I think we just willed this one."
Just as Paul had sparked the Clippers in this series with his score-first mentality in a Game 1 win, it was his defense in the fourth quarter that made the magic happen down the stretch. He guarded reigning MVP Kevin Durant when it mattered most, giving up nearly a foot in length but using all of his trademark scrappiness and grit to deny him the ball. Durant scored 10 of his game-high 40 points in the final quarter, but he was effective enough in the final stretches that the Thunder fell into their time-tested habit of relying too heavily on isolation basketball.
The 29-7 lead that Oklahoma City held just nine minutes into play was a distant memory.
"It's a tough loss, but it's a series man," Durant would say. "It ain't like we're going home. It's 2-2. We'll go back home and take care of business."