Thunder (5-4, 2-1 road) vs. Clippers (5-4, 3-1 home)
It’s hard not to place increased significance on Game 3, knowing that someone is going to break the 1-1 split. But think back to a little more than a week ago when the Thunder went to Memphis. There was panic and frustrating after dropping Game 3, but the goal was always pretty clear: They needed to win one of two. Win one of the next two games and bring the series back for Game 5 tied at 2-2.
Now, that said, winning tonight presents a more obvious positive that now Game 4 could be the chance to put a chokehold on the series. The Thunder are 0-4 in the OKC era in Game 3s when the series is tied 1-1. They’ve always been close in those, but never have quite got it done.
So, what’s important tonight? It’s going to be hard not to overreact with what you see, because this is the playoffs and the magnitude of each game is amplified. And just because the Thunder need a split doesn’t grant them immunity for not performing tonight. This is an opportunity for OKC to snatch back homecourt advantage and have a clear upper hand going into Game 4. The Thunder solved a lot of issues in Game 2, and need to build on that.
But the Clippers are going to adjust. The way the Thunder cranked the intensity and effort was obvious, and the Clippers weren’t able to match it. That’s going to change tonight. The Clippers are going to make an effort to bring the physicality and the Thunder have to absorb and respond.
Five Big Things
1. Russ vs. CP3. The series may be decided by which one of these two can play the four best games. Chris Paul got the best of Game 1, then Westbrook had his way in Game 2.
2. Reggie. It’s an interesting predicament for Scott Brooks with Reggie Jackson. Obviously, the Thunder bench needs Jackson to produce to compete with Jamal Crawford and the deep second unit of the Clippers. But if Thabo Sefolosha is going to play the way he did in Game 2, he needs to be on the floor. And there isn’t a lot of opportunity for smallball because the Clippers prefer to stay small. So there isn’t a lot of room to get Jackson on the floor alongside Westbrook.
3. Ibaka. Quietly, Serge Ibaka played equally as well as Durant or Westbrook in Game 2 with the defensive effort he put in on Blake Griffin. Obviously this is a critical matchup, and Ibaka’s defensive performance is key. But the Thunder also need to involve him as much as possible in the offensive flow, making sure he’s not forgotten. Ibaka is an extremely good offensive player, and losing sight of him as the Thunder go overly top heavy with Westbrook and Durant can get dangerous.
4. Focus. The Clippers admitted to losing their heads a bit in Game 2 because of officiating and other things. The Thunder have to maintain their focus tonight. They can’t be losing their minds barking at officials as the Clippers fast break to the other end. They can’t be picking up needless technical fouls. They have to keep their cool and play free of distraction.
5. Turnovers. The Thunder have done an average job of taking care of the ball thus far, but have to take extra pride in it tonight. The Clippers will punish you on live ball turnovers, turning a giveaway into points immediately.
Tip at 9:30 CT. Go Take A Nap.