Clippers 100, Thunder 98
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers.
- The Clippers are so lucky to have Chris Paul. The guy is just a winner. He’s fearless, he’s clutch, he’s calm under pressure and he’s virtually unstoppable. Take his game-winning layup, for example. The Thunder defended it fairly well from the start, sending its two best defenders, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins at him at the top of the key to trap an upcoming ball screen. Paul wisely and coolly audibled out of the 1-4 ball screen with Blake Griffin and into a 1-5 ball screen with Kenyon Martin. The goal was to try to make Perk retreat and get a more favorable matchup with Serge Ibaka on the perimeter. But the Thunder didn’t bite. Perk stayed and, unfazed, Paul adjusted. Paul simply called his own number and jetted to the basket for the biggest bucket of the night. He orchestrated it all from the start and made it look simple from the start.
- The one complaint, or maybe more of a question, I’d have on the final defensive possession by the Thunder is where was the help? When Paul scooted past Perk, the help defense was so late in sliding over that it was nonexistent. Russell Westbrook ended up with a foot in the paint, but it was much too late. The dilemma Westbrook had was leave his man and get burned for 3, or stay and give Paul a layup. I’m obviously working with the benefit of hindsight, but clearly Westbrook should have taken his chances leaving his man earlier. You’ve got to make Paul pass out to the perimeter for a lower percentage shot.
- Paul’s game-winner was the culmination of his volcanic eruption in the second half. The guy was amazing. Just when you think he’s down for the count, he rises and delivers a haymaker of his own. After a dismal seven-point first half on 3-of-9 shooting, he made 8-of-11 shot for 24 points in the second half.
- Said James Harden about the Thunder’s defense on CP in the second half: “We just got lazy in the second half. We didn’t come out with that aggression like we did in the first half to really control him and he took advantage of it.”
- Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks about OKC’s D on CP in the second half: “We didn’t do a good job of taking the ball out of his hands. And he was making some shots. That’s what Chris does. He’s always been a terrific second half player. And in the fourth quarters, you know you’re going to have to play your best basketball to stop him from scoring. He had a great game.”
- I thought Westbrook and Derek Fisher actually did an incredible job against Paul in the first half. Both pressed up and cut off Paul’s passing options to cutters out of the pick-and-roll while forcing him into tough, contested shots.
- Did Brooks out-think himself? Thabo Sefolosha switched onto Paul in the third quarter and, surprisingly, he didn’t do half as well as Westbrook did. Maybe it was Thabo who made the call. I don’t know. But perhaps the Thunder should have stuck with Westbrook. Westbrook had his chances in the second half, but by the time he switched back onto Paul it was too late. He was hot and had found his rhythm. And there was nothing Westbrook or anyone else could do.
- Kevin Durant was nearly the player of the game despite a horrendous 22-point performance on 7-of-21 shooting. He came up with a huge blocked shot on Martin with 43 seconds remaining and hit the game-tying 3 at the other with 32.2 seconds to play. He was 6-of-19 before that game-tying 3-ball dropped. So, needless to say, gutsy shot.
- Then KD settled, like he’s done in the past, and hoisted a 25-footer looking to win the game. It was as poor of a decision as we’ve seen from Durant this season. He easily could have forced the action and drove to the basket in search of a better look or a foul. But he let it fly and that was that.
- KD on what he saw on the final miss: “He was playing off me a little bit and it got clogged up. I didn’t want to risk a turnover so I shot it.”
- Hey, KD, next time risk a turnover.
- It’s a shame the Thunder players and coaches keep saying they don’t really care about the standings. Because they had a golden opportunity to regain control of their own destiny with a win tonight. The Spurs got smacked at home by the Lakers, and the Thunder could have gone up two games. Instead, the Thunder remains just a game ahead with the Spurs still having two additional games remaining and the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- Very interestingly officiated game. Not poorly officiated (although there were some bad calls). Just interesting. Lot of late calls in this one. Better late than never, though.
- The Thunder fell to 35-3 when leading after three quarters. I can’t name you the other two games. But that’s a helluva record.
- The Clippers tried to throw a zone at the Thunder in the second quarter, but OKC remained patient in attacking it and found little trouble finding seams for dishes in the paint or on the perimeter. While still not anywhere close to where it needs to be, the Thunder’s development against zone defenses has quietly become one of the team’s biggest areas of improvement. Dallas, however, plays zone unlike anybody else in the league. Organized chaos is the best way of describing it. And I’m telling you, if the Thunder messes around and gets the Mavs in the first round, look out. Don’t count out Dallas yet given the right draw. For the Mavs, the Thunder just might be it.
- Way too many free throws in the third quarter. It ruined the flow of the game and, really, kept the Clippers within striking distance. The Clippers shot 14 foul shots in the third quarter, helping them outscore the Thunder 28-25 despite making just 7-of-17 shots. I think the Clippers’ frequent trips to the foul line in that frame actually played a big part in the Thunder losing this game. OKC couldn’t gain a rhythm, and things quickly went south from there.
- The fourth-quarter execution tonight left more to be desired. And that’s putting it mildly. The Thunder was 6-of-19 in the fourth quarter and just 2-of-7 in the final 6 1/2 minutes. There was way too much isolation and far too many lapses down the stretch. Rather than remain patient and get something good, the Thunder went into one-on-one mode and watched everything end in a contested jumper. The one good play the Thunder had was when Westbrook drove and dished to a cutting Ibaka for an uncontested dunk.
- The Thunder went 5 minutes, 46 seconds without a field goal in the fourth quarter. That about sums this one up.
- Brooks on the late-game execution: “We got a couple of good looks. The last shot, I thought we could have gotten a better shot than that but that’s part of learning and part of understanding what we need. But the execution was not as bad as you might think. We missed some shots down the stretch and that happens.”
- Noticeably missing from the Thunder’s crunch-time game plan? Harden having the ball in his hands.
- The big-to-big passing was on point tonight. On more than one occasion, Perk found Ibaka and Ibaka found Perk for layups. If they continue trust each other and catch the ball cleanly, the offense will be close to unstoppable. At least for three quarters.
- Has Blake Griffin become a villain? Sure couldn’t tell by the ovation he got from the Oklahoma City crowd tonight. The Thunder doesn’t think he’s so bad either.
- Notice KD’s shoes tonight? They’re a special edition called the N7 Zoom KD IV. A portion of all sales of the shoe will benefit the N7 fund, which awards grants to Native American and Aboriginal grassroots sport and fitness programs. Kind of cool on KD’s part, right?
- There are no words for the dunk Griffin threw down over Ibaka. Zero. The guy is just an amazing athlete.
- Three minutes after flushing that dunk over Ibaka, Griffin lost his balance on a spin move on Collison and still dunked. It was a play that won’t get nearly as much attention. But it was one that showed just how special the guy is. Most players would have traveled or had to throw up some junk. Blake threw it down.
- Dare I say Sefolosha’s 3-point shot is becoming a weapon? He looks comfortable letting them fly and he’s now shooting an eye-popping 49 percent on the season from deep after going 2-for-2 tonight. The key for Thabo, as it’s always been, is remaining confident. When he loses it, you can tell. His shot have no chance of dropping. But right now, he’s in a nice rhythm so let ‘em fly.
- Gotta give credit to Fisher for knocking down a few shots tonight, too, including two from deep. It’s much too early to say he’s turning the corner offensively. But his aggressiveness in the last few games with the ball in his hands has been a good sign.
- With all that went wrong tonight, Thunder heads can take solace in this: Durant and Westbrook combined to score 42 points on 35 shots. That might not happen all of next year! So don’t get too bummed about this one.
- Up next. At home against Sacramento on Friday.
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