Clippers (5-3, 2-2 road) vs. Thunder (4-4, 2-3 home)
Throughout a postseason series, something of which the Thunder have seen many of the past few years, each game takes on its own meaning and carries its own weight. Really, it’s hard not to categorize them all as “must-win” despite the only one that has to be won is any that prevents your opponent from four.
Having said that, tonight’s Game 2 feels pretty must-win-ish. Dropping both opening games on your home floor presents a massive problem, the obvious being you’re down 0-2 and have to win not once, but twice on the road. The Thunder played a miserable Game 1 against the Clippers, as defensive breakdowns all over the court opened the door for easy shots everywhere. Per SportVU, 58 of the Clippers 82 shot attempts were uncontested in Game 1. Comparatively, 30 of the Thunder’s 85 were uncontested. It was simply too easy.
A lot of that issue was compounded by the fact the Clippers didn’t miss all that much. They hit 15 3-pointers, with Chris Paul dropping eight of his nine attempts. We can say that there’s no way they produce that again, but with poor perimeter defense, they might be able to replicate it closely.
The mission tonight is pretty straightforward: defend. Play with urgency, play with passion, play with intensity, play with effort, play with energy. I find it ridiculous that Russell Westbrook blamed a lack of effort on the defensive issues in Game 1, because come on man, how can you not give effort in the playoffs? But that’s nothing new. I remember the team citing that as their excuse back in the Finals, too.
The Thunder can play with the Clippers. The four regular season games told a much different story than Game 1, but the reality is that already one game in, the Thunder are in a tight spot. The Clippers are playing with house money, and the Thunder are the desperate one now. Sometimes, that can work in your favor (see: the Grizzlies series). Sometimes, the pressure grabs you and the team that’s loose and relaxed rolls on.
One thing we know: After this game tonight, the series is going to take on a much different shape, one way or the other.
Five Big Things
1. KD. Coming off Durant’s emotional, passionate speech yesterday, how does the team respond? He’s going to be handed his trophy again before the game, which will be a great moment, but does this serve as a distraction, or inspiration? If Durant’s teammates don’t compete for him tonight, then those guys don’t have a pulse.
2. Starting five. You can anticipate Scott Brooks sticking with his starting five, but if he does, why not consider Thabo on Chris Paul?
3. Bench. I think this is a big reason Brooks is hesitant to add Caron Butler back into the starting five, because the Clippers have such a problematic second unit. The Thunder need better from Butler and Reggie Jackson and 2-15 combined.
4. Pace. The Thunder like to play fast, but sometimes when they get moving like that, they forget to defend. The Clippers want the game up and down, and the Thunder might be better off offering a contrasting style. One of the positives about the Thunder is their ability to play different styles effectively. Dictating tonight’s tempo would be in their favor.
5. Defend your home. You know what bugs me? The Thunder have already lost three times at home in the playoffs. In their 2012 Finals run, they lost once — Game 2 against the Heat. In the regular season this year, they lost only seven times. Where’s the pride in your home floor?
Tip at 8:30 CT. Go Need This.