Everything about this matchup changed about an hour and a half before tipoff. Chris Paul was ruled out and not only did that greatly increase Oklahoma City’s chances of winning, it also completely altered the perspective and eventual evaluation of the game.
What was set to be a matchup of two Western heavyweights, the clear top dogs of the conference was now an apparent mismatch. Don’t get me wrong: Sans CP3 the Clippers are still capable. With Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and a stout second unit, the Thunder weren’t going to have an easy night ahead of them in Staples.
But there’s just no way to avoid the fact that the Thunder’s handling of the Clips came without their best player. I was of the mind the Thunder were going to win anyway, because for one, I think they’re better and for two, they almost always bounce back.
Regardless of who played and who didn’t, the Thunder took care of their business and put another full game between them and the Clippers, as well as taking a 2-0 season series lead. It was still an impressive dismantling of a high quality Clippers team, especially with the way the Thunder executed it.
The first half was about the Thunder’s oft-criticized second unit completely outplaying LA’s, led by Kevin Martin’s burst spanning the first and second quarters. While Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant sort of lurked, OKC’s bench took an eight-point deficit with 1:15 left in the first and turned it into a seven-point lead by the time Durant checked back in with 10:03 left in the second. That is a major storyline to this game, because as you might expect, eventually Westbrook and Durant came around.
And when they did, it was lights out for the Clippers. Westbrook finished with a steady 26-point, six-assist game, but Durant’s second half explosion was something else. KD just ruthlessly eviscerated the Clippers the final 24 minutes. He scored 24 of his 32 in the third and fourth quarters, on 9-11 shooting. Overall, he hit 5-6 from deep and 12-19. That second half was one of those beautiful stretches when you can obviously see KD is cooking and basically hunting a sliver of space to launch. I love those stretches.
The Thunder were a bit more balanced tonight with Durant and Westbrook combining for *only* 58 points, as Serge Ibaka added 17, Martin 13, Nick Collison eight and Thabo Sefolosha nine. A little more distribution, a little more movement and spacing. It led to 24 team assists, 15 made 3s on 27 attempts (an OKC record) and an overall shooting percentage of 52.6.
Another story of the game: Kendrick Perkins pulled a Thabeet tonight, picking up four fouls in just seven minutes, which forced Collison into extended action. He played a season-high 41 minutes and was exceptionally productive, finishing a game-high +20. It was kind of an interesting move from Scott Brooks to ride Collison for virtually the entire second half. And a glimpse into the working theory that in some situations, the Thunder are better off with him playing center for extended stretches. I’d say in this instance, it was a success.
(Though I do think Perk might be the best player suited to guard Griffin, especially later in games when physicality is a bit more overlooked by the officials. Griffin bulldozed Ibaka and Collison at times. He’s not going to be able to put his head down and steamroll to the bucket against Perk like that.)
It’s really a shame that Paul didn’t play though. It certainly aided an OKC win — a somewhat easy one at that, which is appreciated considering a game against Golden State is less than 24 hours away — but it also cheapened what would’ve otherwise been a pretty significant road triumph. It’s still a good win, but it’s no statement, it’s no eye-opener.
But a win is certainly better than the alternative, which definitely would’ve been opening some eyes. Onward.
- An interesting working theory I’ve talked to a few people about that I might explore more later, but wanted to put on paper now: Is it possible that one reason the Thunder are better this season is because removing James Harden has meant more responsibility for Westbrook and Durant? As in, those two have more room to breathe, more time on the ball, a bigger offensive role? Instead of feeling the need to involve Harden, Westbrook and Durant seem mostly content ignoring Martin at times, something he appears fine with. Maybe removing Harden was for the best? Again, just a thought and something I’m definitely not convinced of at all, especially without seeing it in action in the postseason.
- To that point, Martin lit up the Clippers in the first half but didn’t score against until 32.6 seconds left in the game. He had 11 in about a four-minute span in the first half, and just two in the second.
- Durant had a 104.8 TS% in the second half. Yo.
- Serge Ibaka set a new career-high with three assists. Yay?
- The Clips abused OKC on the boards in the first half, pulling in 10 offensive rebounds. The second half the Thunder got it under control, allowing just two.
- Interesting defensive strategy deployed by Westbrook on Eric Bledsoe tonight. He wasn’t exactly giving him a midrange jumper by sagging off, but he wasn’t exactly pressuring him until he was around 15 feet out. I’m not really a fan of that approach because you’re essentially allow dribble penetration, but it was clearly effective tonight as Bledsoe struggled shooting the ball and only found a clogged lane when he tried to create.
- I find it really odd that Ibaka grips the ball to the side on his free throws. Pretty much everyone teaches to shoot with your fingers on the laces.
- I thought OKC’s gameplan of making a ton of 3-pointers was a solid decision.
- The one obvious hole I see remaining in KD’s game is his postgame dunk celebrations. The flailing arm move doesn’t really do much for me.
- Did it feel like every shot Nick Collison took tonight got blocked to anyone else? Or was that just me?
- Ibaka used an interesting defensive tactic in guarding Griffin tonight as he went with a super wide stance and put his face right in Griffin’s chest. One play, he left his face in there a little too long and was actually whistled for a foul. How was that a foul though? Is there a face-checking rule I’m not aware of?
- From what I saw, the reason Perk was in such foul trouble was because he simply couldn’t hang with DeAndre Jordan athletically, so he resorted to trying to push, pull and grab. And he got caught.
- What’s up with the lack of blocks from Ibaka lately? Just one tonight.
- Brooks worked over Vinny Del Negro tonight. Every matchup was dictated by OKC and the Clippers went away from their obvious strength of size and athletic ability inside and instead fell right into the Thunder’s plan. Why did Jordan only play 21 minutes tonight? Outside of Griffin and the possible offensive firestorm from Crawford, Jordan was the only other player I feared.
- After a couple free throw parade games, OKC only took 14 tonight. The foul disparity was pretty significant too as OKC was whistled 26 times to LA’s 17.
- Back-to-back illegal screens called again on the Thunder in crunchtime. Both on Ibaka. If this is a new Thunder traditional I’m not aware of, go ahead and put me down as not a fan.
- KD’s favorite shot is the straight on 3 off an offensive rebound. I feel like he shoots roughly 94 percent on those. Even when he misses they go in (he banked one in tonight).
- Reggie Jackson played a pretty good game. Most notably his defense on Jamal Crawford in the first and second quarters. That’s a pretty clear difference between him and Eric Maynor. Maynor would never have a prayer checking Crawford, while Jackson can guard both backcourt spots.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Sometimes you get so close that you can’t really fully appreciate the magnificence, but it has set on me full force like a well made blanket that we are watching magnificence right now.”
Next up: At the Warriors Wednesday.