Kevin Durant hit a transition 3, and you could see it — freedom. The Thunder finally had those Memphis shackles off, and the floor had grown from what seemed to be 74×25 to its actual dimensions of 94×50. The Thunder led 16-10, the sea of blue was frothing and it was on.
The Clippers called timeout, and J.J. Redick hit a 3 right out of it. Then Chris Paul hit one. Then Chris Paul hit another one. Then Chris Paul hit another one. Then Chris Paul hit another one. Then Chris Paul hit another one. Or at least that’s what it seemed like. The Clippers erupted on a 19-4 run in what felt like 10 seconds and turned the Thunder’s positive start into an early deficit.
And then they piled on.
It was kind of a surreal thing to watch, the Thunder get pummeled at home in the playoffs. The Grizzlies had them down 20 in Game 5, but a run was always coming. This time, the Clippers were just torturing the Thunder’s laughable defense, getting what they wanted, when they wanted.
“We have definitely have to play much better on the defensive side of the ball,” Scott Brooks began his postgame presser. (I’d like a headline with his picture and “Mr. Obvious” if possible.) “We have to do a better job all the way around. We will be better. That wasn’t who we are.”
There would be an easy excuse to be deployed, had the Clippers not come in to Oklahoma City playing under the same circumstances. There’s no question the Thunder looked flat, unprepared and tired. But the Clippers were able to play through all of that, and did it mostly by making every freaking shot they took.
“It was just one of those games,” Doc Rivers said.
“That’s what I do, that’s what I do,” Paul said, laughing. “That is a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. That’s probably got to be a career-high for me in makes and attempts. I don’t know. This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I’ll tell you that.”
Some might take this as a justification, but the Thunder couldn’t have been faced with adjusting to more contrasting styles. The series against the Grizzlies was played with a very specific tempo, and the Thunder had settled into a obvious defensive mode. Pack the paint, dare them to shoot. The Clippers, though, space the floor, push tempo and run a ridiculous amount of pick-and-roll. Brooks said following Game 7 they’d been preparing for both the Warriors and Clippers, but watching the Thunder scramble without any direction made it look like they were entirely shell-shocked, simply unready to handle that attack.
“I do think we had a tough time adjusting to their speed after the last series, which was much slower paced,” said Nick Collison. “I don’t know if that caught us by surprise but we have to be a lot better. We’ve got to be a much different team in Game 2.”
But let’s break this down with positives and negatives, and as you might assume, one is going to heavily outweigh the other. First, the positives:
- The Clippers played fantastically, and while I realize this is the postseason where rushing to judgment is en vogue, remember, the Thunder completely locked them up back in April in a playoff-like game. Does that matter now? Of course not. But the point is, it’s not like this has magically become some horrible defensive matchup overnight for the Thunder. OKC can guard this team. The question is if they will.
- Chris Paul said it himself: He’s not hitting 8-of-9 from 3 again.
- Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook looked very comfortable offensively and were getting the shots they wanted.
- At least they were able to get a little bit of rest, right?
- And… that’s pretty much it.
- The Thunder’s bench was painfully horrible. Take away garbage time scoring from Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Derek Fisher, and the Thunder’s second unit produced virtually nothing. Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler combined to shoot 2-15.
- The Thunder’s balance was all out of whack. Westbrook and Durant scored the majority of OKC’s points through three quarters, and while they were doing it well, the Thunder lost any kind of spread offensive attack.
- One of the biggest problems the last few weeks of the regular season was perimeter defense. Everyone could see it. It was an obvious issue. The Grizzlies weren’t equipped to expose it, but the Clippers sure did, hitting 15 3s.
- The Thunder have a few clear matchup issues to sort out. One, if Thabo isn’t going to defend Chris Paul, what good is he on the floor? Some of the worst games CP3 has played against the Thunder came with Thabo defending him. Tonight, there was never a decision to move Thabo over on him.
- Jamal Crawford is a big problem.
The negatives really could carry on for quite some time, but here’s the biggest takeaway: This is one loss. It doesn’t count extra because the Clippers whipped the Thunder’s ass. It was humiliating and deflating, but it just further proves the point this will be a difficult series to win. The three losses to the Grizzlies were all excruciating in different ways, but this one took on a different form.
“A loss is a loss, man,” Durant said. It’s tough to swallow, especially on your home floor. It’s the playoffs. But a quick turnaround, we’ve got a day in between, we play Wednesday. That’s the best part about it, knowing the games come so quickly. But a loss is a loss. It’s tough to play that way, especially on our home floor, geting booed by our fans. We never want to do that. But we’ll always learn from it, move forward and get better.”
- One fear I had was the Thunder would relax defensively. Not just that they’d be caught off guard by the Clippers, but that with it easier for them to score, that they’d be susceptible to getting into an open court up-and-down game. And when they went up 16-10 and the flow was wide open, the Thunder clearly relaxed a bit.
- Durant says all losses are the same, but what’s worse: Losing like this or losing in excruciating fashion like against Memphis? In the end, they both count as one, but to me at least, certainly don’t seem equal.
- It’s a little funny: During the Grizzlies series, it was Scott Brooks has to be fired because of the horrible offense. So far after one game, it’s that he has to be fired for the horrible defense.
- Headlines: “CP33333333. Or “Stinko de Mayo.” OK, I’ll leave.
- Westbrook’s defense was as bad as I’ve ever seen it. He was the opposite of focused on the defensive end, constantly losing track of his man or his positioning. There was a play in the third quarter where he half helped off on a CP3 drive, leaving his man wide open in the corner. Instead of doing anything though, he stood in limbo as Paul kicked out, and Crawford nailed a 3. Lazy, sloppy stuff.
- Thunder fans were searching all over for points of blame in this one. Look, I’m firmly on #TeamFreeJeremyLamb, but if you think that playing him tonight would’ve solved, or prevented this, there’s nothing I can for you son. Based on what fans tweet me throughout a game, the best players the Thunder have are the ones that don’t play. I had people begging for Andre Roberson out there tonight. Andre Roberson!
- That said, one of the Clippers’ top advantages is their length and athleticism, so I’m not exactly sure that veteran toughness and grit is exactly ideal here. As in Derek Fisher guarding Jamal Crawford. That’s a pretty bad idea right there. But when Brooks figures that out in Game 4, we can clap for his adjustment then.
- Durant mentioned boos, but I truly didn’t hear any. There were definitely some disgruntled fans, but in terms of unified booing, I didn’t catch any of it.
- You know what the local Oklahoma City media is FASCINATED by? That Blake Griffin is from Oklahoma and that Chris Paul played here once. Have you heard? Isn’t that just so wild? I mean!
- Hack-a-Jordan worked moderately. What are the feelings on doing it all game long? Like literally, from tipoff, start fouling him and don’t stop. Sure, the Thunder might be playing with only one player by the end, but I still think they’d give up fewer points.
- Rivers on Hack-a-Jordan: “He’s our guy. Even when he misses, he gets stops on the other end. I don’t really know how much of an advantage it gives teams.”
- I saw Chris Paul miss a 3 during halftime, so it IS possible.
- Westbrook on CP3: “He hit eight 3s. He wasn’t doing nothing crazy. He hit eight 3s. You can’t do too much than contest. He hit some tough shots. We can live with that.”
- A big thing on the Clippers explosive offensive night: They shot 54.9 percent and made 15 3s, but with that, they only turned it over nine times. When you’re hitting shots at that rate, the fact you’re able to continue to get one up every possession is a massively important thing.
- To the people that show up to games and don’t want to put the shirt on, what’s your problem? Do you not get how this thing works?
- I feel like Chris Paul should’ve came and found me after the game, slapped me in the face and said, “Now, who is the best point guard in basketball?”
- One of the more remarkable things about Paul is that he started the game 8-8 from 3, and completely resisted ever taking a heat check 3. He talked about that postgame, saying that’s just not in his nature and that he doesn’t believe in it, but virtually any other player in the league hits two 3s in a row and he’s chucking from somewhere next time down. Paul doesn’t. One of the many things that makes him special.
- The last series should’ve reminded fans a pretty valuable lesson about the ebbs and flows of a postseason series. But it’s pretty obvious that Game 2 is critical now. The Thunder have lost homecourt advantage and now have to win in Los Angeles. A very doable task, but something not drawn up to plan.
- The Clippers’ performance had a lot to do with the Thunder’s awful, comical defense. But it also had a whole lot to do with them making a ton of shots. And once they found that rhythm, the floor opened up all over, and they were making extra passes and trusting each other. Things will probably look a lot different in Game 2.
- Going from Scott Brooks to Doc Rivers in terms of media availability is like looking at the sun after getting your eyes dilated. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so desensitized to Brooks’ cliches and coachspeak, but it would suck to cover Rivers because it felt like every single thing he said in his 11 minutes pregame was worth quoting. It would get old transcribing everything word he spoke.
Next up: Game 2 on Wednesday