OKLAHOMA CITY -- It’s one thing to get bullied by Draymond Green and LeBron James, but to get schooled by guys like Utah’s Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio?

To have MVP Russell Westbrook so thoroughly outplayed by Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell?

Until last week, it was unimaginable.

Now, it’s beyond imaginable.

It happened in Games 3 and 4 of this NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series, and it happened for nearly 2½ quarters on Wednesday.

At the 8:32 mark of Game 5’s third period, the Utah Jazz led 71-46 and was positioned to record a statement victory and end Oklahoma City’s season.

After that?

There was an inexplicably, unforgettably sensational response from Russell Westbrook, Paul George and their desperate Thunder teammates.

At the end of the greatest comeback in Thunder history, the final score was OKC 107, Utah 99.

“Our team did an amazing job of sticking together,” Westbrook said. “This series is all about momentum changes.”

Because Game 5 didn’t begin until 8:30 p.m., and because it was nearly 10 o’clock when the historic rally began, a great many Oklahomans probably went to bed when the Thunder seemed destined for defeat and a four-games-to-one elimination from the playoffs.

Imagine the surprise of those fans when they see that Westbrook and George combined for 54 points after halftime.

“A 20-point lead in the NBA is not safe,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, “(and) especially against guys like Russell Westbrook and Paul George.”

As Westbrook finished with a total of 45 points and George added 34, the Thunder series deficit is three-games-to-two.

On Friday, Game 6 is played in Salt Lake City. In Game 3 and Game 4 losses at Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City was terrible.

The Thunder starters’ collective playoff experience amounts to 325 games. The Utah starters have been participants in 60 playoff games.

In Utah’s hostile and deafening arena, as OKC’s execution was gruesome and its poise vaporized, the Thunder’s experience advantage was nullified during Games 3 and 4.

Now, the Thunder’s swagger has been restored. Game 6 should be a chippy, crazy spectacle.

“We’re going home,” said Jae Crowder, who led the Jazz with 27 points in Game 5. “We’ll be fine.”

Combining all regular-season and postseason games since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma in 2008, the 25-point comeback victory sets a new Thunder standard. Before Wednesday, the greatest deficit overcome in an OKC triumph was 18 points.

When dealt a three-games-to-one playoff series deficit, the Thunder’s record had been 0-4. There were Game 5 losses to Houston last year, to Memphis in 2013, to Miami in the 2012 Finals, and to Dallas in the 2011 Western finals.

Stealing a Game 6 conquest in Utah will be extremely challenging for the Thunder, but it certainly can’t be any more difficult than having scrambled back to life in Game 5.

Bill Haisten



Twitter: @billhaisten

Sports Columnist

Bill joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to having become a sports columnist in 2016, he was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397