The Thunder in the first 23 minutes and 54 seconds of Wednesday’s game against the Clippers: 59 points and an offensive efficiency of 120.9, and allowed 53 points with a defensive efficiency of 100.3.
The next 24 minutes and six seconds: 44 points and an offensive efficiency of 78.5, and allowed 58 points with a defensive efficiency 111.3.
What changed? Serge Ibaka had to watch that 24 minutes and six seconds from the locker room. With just six seconds left in the first half, Ibaka found himself tangled up with Blake Griffin — a player he has history with — and the incident escalated into a full-blown altercation after Matt Barnes got involved. Ibaka shook Griffin off, Barnes shoved Ibaka, Ibaka shoved back, then balled up a fist. After a review, with an explanation that the players continued to escalate the situation rather than stand down, Ibaka and Barnes were ejected and Griffin was handed a technical foul.
For the Thunder, other than Russell Westbrook canning an I-give-zero-effs buzzer-beater before halftime, everything went bad. Ryan Gomes was dusted off and started the second half, for some reason, and picked up four fouls in six minutes. Keep in mind, the Thunder were already thin up front without Kendrick Perkins tonight who is dealing with a death in his family, so Hasheem Thabeet played his first minutes of the season, and unfortunately for the Thunder that included 14 of them.
The Clippers outscored OKC 30-16 in the third quarter and while the Thunder made a nice little push getting the lead to five late in the fourth, there just wasn’t enough defense to come all the way back.
It’s not that Ibaka is that important — though he was playing wonderfully, 6-6 from the floor with 13 points — but it’s more that his absence sent the Thunder’s rotation reeling and Scott Brooks’ head spinning. The fact Gomes was installed as the second half starting power forward says a lot of the lack of plan Brooks had without Ibaka. I can understand not going with Nick Collison, who was in a little foul trouble and needed to be as fresh as possible to battle Blake Griffin down the stretch. But the real headscratcher is leaving Perry Jones unused the entire second half, after he was really solid in the first.
At one point in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Collison and Thabeet on the floor. What is that lineup? The comeback was sparked by Brooks finally electing to go small with Durant at the 4 and Collison at center, which came way, way too late. You can’t play Durant the entire second half, especially with another game looming 24 hours later against the Warriors, but why not play Jones at the 4 in a smallball lineup in the third and early fourth? Offense was the issue for OKC because it just couldn’t keep pace with the high-flying Clippers. And as the Clips maintained their offensive pace, the Thunder slipped further and further back.
Do the Thunder win with Serge Ibaka? No clue. And in some ways, this feels like a karma thing seeing as Ibaka probably should’ve been ejected last season for his crotch-shot on Griffin to which he then went on and made a number of critical plays as OKC won. But what we do know is that Brooks and the Thunder didn’t handle Ibaka’s ejection very well.
Again, the Thunder had a little chance to make it interesting late. Durant and Westbrook did that thing they tend to do where they won’t quit and start making a game of one that should’ve been let go of long ago, but with two missed free throws by Westbrook, a bad Reggie Jackson turnover where he was stupidly handling loosely in the open court and a dagger Jamal Crawford 3, the Thunder couldn’t make it all the way.
And really, with three minutes left I was kind of wondering if that was even worth it. With the game against the Warriors coming, Durant played 42 minutes, and a lot of them banging with Blake Griffin. The Thunder have built a culture of never giving in, but with three minutes left and the writing on the wall, pushing until the end might end up costing OKC two games instead of one.
- Again, I think Brooks has done a really nice job this season, but tonight wasn’t his best game. It’s a tough spot because he’s already down one starter so he has to dig in to his bench, and then he’s thrown a curveball losing Ibaka. And on top of that, fouls were piling up. But sticking with Thabeet for extended minutes, playing Steven Adams only 21 minutes, waiting way too long to go small and leaving Jones on the bench the entire second half were odd choices.
- About the ejections: I have no idea what the officials were thinking. Ibaka and Griffin tangled, there was a little shoving, and that was it. Ibaka stupidly clenched a fist, but that’s not against the rules as long as you don’t use it. Really, Barnes shouldn’t have been tossed either. Just technicals all around and let’s play on.
- Shame is, Ibaka’s stuff on Griffin was entirely clean and really, a great block.
- Blake Griffin was excellent, Chris Paul had 16 assists, KD was great — but Matt Barnes was definitely the player of the game.
- A fan that didn’t watch the game tonight is going to see Ibaka was 6-6 for 13 points and only played 17 minutes and wonder if Brooks smoked some crystal before the game.
- Thabeet was awful. He was a game-worst -11 in 14 minutes, and that’s no coincidence. He fumbled passes, couldn’t hold rebounds, got lost in rotations, fouled everyone and was even kind of bad at his best trait: being tall.
- Thabeet has to have the weakest grip in the league. His hand strength compared to Steven Adams is like my bench press compared to Adrian Peterson’s.
- Adams got his first career start and was pretty meh — seven points, four rebounds and a block in 21 minutes. He clearly had a lot of trouble figuring out the Clippers’ motion offense, getting lost defensively a couple of times. You could see the wheels turning in his head every possession as he tried to sort out all the Clippers’ motion and cutting. One of Adams’ biggest issues is that he lingers too long after hedging the pick-and-roll. He’s got to recover much harder than he does. Brooks needs to lock him in the film room with hours of tape of Nick Collison hedging and recovering.
- Westbrook finished with a season-high 10 assists, and had five in the first quarter with four of them leading to Ibaka dunks.
- Durant finished with a season-high 10 assists, too.
- Turnovers were a major issue for OKC tonight, giving it away 22 times.
- Thabo Sefolosha just missed another 3-pointer.
- OKC’s starting five had an offensive efficiency of 131.3, and a defensive efficiency of 95.8. Easily their best lineup tonight.
- Jeremy Lamb couldn’t get going at all, going 0-5 in 14 minutes.
- Reggie Jackson was also pretty poor, scoring nine points with four assists in 25 minutes. He did hit a corner 3, which is cause for celebration.
- J.J. Redick’s dribble hand-off plays where he’s curling are so tough to defend. Adams’ first two starts are against maybe two of the toughest teams he’s going to have to defend this season. Between all the moving the Clippers do with Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll, to what the Warriors will do, Adams is really getting thrown into the fire.
- In the first quarter, Westbrook peeled back after a Thunder make to steal the inbounds pass, then pulled up from 3 with three Clippers under the basket, drilling it. There’s only one player in the league that makes that sequence happen.
- The Thunder got absolutely crushed on the boards 50-35. That’s been an area of strength so far this season.
- Blake Griffin’s free throw looks like it’s buffering.
- Byron Mullens sighting!
- The Clippers started the game 8-0 and seemed to have OKC completely on its heels, but the Thunder settled in and looked to be the better team, until Ibaka got ejected. OKC led by as many as 12 and was asserting itself well on both ends. Alas.
Next up: At the Warriors on Thursday