I’m still trying to figure out what Serge Ibaka did wrong…
* As usual, Scott Brooks took the high road. Kevin Durant did, too. Serge Ibaka even expressed remorse. But there was no denying or understating the significance of what transpired Wednesday night. The ejections of Ibaka and Clippers forward Matt Barnes completely changed the game.
* The Thunder was taking it to the Clippers on their home court for much of the first half when a skirmish started just before halftime. Ibaka and Blake Griffin got tangled up. Both took exception to the contact. A shoving match ensued. Barnes came in and pushed hardest, shoving Ibaka and escalating emotions. Upon further review, the officiating crew decided Ibaka and Barnes deserved to be ejected. Griffin drew only a technical foul.
* This, of course, isn’t the sole reason why the Thunder lost to the Clippers. But it sure did play a mighty big part.
* Prior to his dismissal, Ibaka had netted 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting. Barnes was scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting. Even Clippers fans at halftime were happy with that tradeoff.
* Almost immediately after Ibaka disappeared into the tunnel, the Thunder’s offense disappeared into the night. Without its hottest hand and biggest help to Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder went from out of this world to out of sync and out of sorts.
* A 62-53 Thunder lead at halftime quickly dwindled in the third quarter before evaporating altogether. After its best first half of the year, OKC scored just 16 points in the third period. The Thunder was 5-for-17 in the frame…and nobody in the Thunder’s locker room chose to publicly point to Ibaka’s questionable dismissal.
* Brooks: “It changes things up. But I believe in all the guys in the locker room. That’s why they work hard every day. There’s going to be times when your number gets called, probably when you don’t expect it. And that was tonight.”
* Durant: “They don’t need to (provide an explanation). That’s their call. They make that decision. We just got to move on and live with it. It is what it is. Of course, we would love to have Serge out there. But it didn’t happen like that. We still had a chance to win the game.”
* Russell Westbrook: “Turnovers. Turnovers, for sure. We put ourselves in a bad position not getting a shot up and down the floor. So turning the ball over hurt.”
* OKC turned the ball over 15 times in the second half.
* The Thunder gave up 18 offensive rebounds. That helped the Clippers take 11 more shots than the Thunder and
* Eighteen of the Clippers’ 26 fast break points came in the second half.
* Those are all contributing factors to this loss.
* But it wasn’t just Ibaka’s offense that the Thunder missed. It was also his defense. On Griffin, on penetrating guards and on the pick and roll. The Thunder’s defense completely collapsed in the second half. A good portion of it had to do with those turnovers. But without Ibaka, or Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder was thin up front and reliant on rusty (Ryan Gomes) or inexperienced (Steven Adams) players.
* First half points in the paint: Thunder 36, Clippers 24.
* Second half points in the paint: Clippers 28, Thunder 16.
* In the first half, the Clippers were 12 of 23 on paint-point opportunities. In the second half, the Clippers were 14 f 20. So not only did the Thunder’s low post scoring dry up, but the Clippers, even if they scored just four more from inside in the second half, were much more efficient from point blank.
* Ibaka on the ejection: “It was a physical game and anything can happen. But the referee made the decision so I will take it. I didn’t see the video after that so I will try to make sure and watch it…I was really disappointed. I will learn from my mistake, and all I can do now is be focused about tomorrow’s game.”
* Here’s how Clippers coach Doc Rivers saw the altercation: “Obviously, you don’t want anybody to get thrown out. I don’t want Ibaka to get thrown out, and I absolutely do not want Matt Barnes to get thrown out. The only way I think Matt can possibly be thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing. I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything.”
* Gomes stated the second half in place of Ibaka. And he picked up four fouls in six minutes.
* So about that first half. It was a thing of beauty. Well, after the 0-for-5 start it was. The Thunder made 13 of its final 17 shots in the opening period and had 11 assists on its first 13 field goals. Into the second quarter, the Thunder had 13 assists on its first 16 field goals and finished the first half with 19 assists on 24 field goals.
* Westbrook was the catalyst. He had five assists in the first quarter, four of them going to Ibaka, who was set up for extremely easy shots because of Westbrook’s playmaking.
* Westbrook on his connection with Ibaka: “We’re pushing the pace. He’s doing a good job of running the floor. He did a great job of just getting down the floor and getting ahead of me and then giving me some space to attack and get him the ball.”
* Brooks on the passing: “That’s something that we talked about all training camp, and that’s a positive. When we have good execution, good spacing, make the extra pass, we’re going to make shots. And we did that tonight.”
* Adams started in place of Perkins, who did not travel with the team so that he could be with his family following the death of his grandfather. And he struggled mightily. His first career start saw him get thrown into the fire against one of the conference’s top teams, a really explosive offense and a potent pick-and-roll squad. From the opening tip, Adams had trouble adjusting to L.A.’s speed and schemes. He committed his first foul 16 seconds in. Let a high-low bounce pass get by him. Got outmuscled by Griffin for a rebound. Got caught in no-man’s land and got beat on a touch lob pass from Grififn to DeAndre Jordan. Chris Paul turned the corner on him, got to the rim and converted a layup out of a pick and roll. All of this happened in the first two minutes, almost successively.
* Brooks on Adams: “One thing about Steven is it’s not a game-to-game reaction. You can’t live off of one game because it becomes a roller coaster ride. You got to be solid in your preparation every day regardless of how you play, good or bad. You have to be level-headed, and Steven does have a great disposition about himself.”
* Adams did have some good moments. He challenged a monster dunk attempt by Griffin midway through the first quarter and won. He rolled out of ball screens well and hit a few shots. And he was again a presence on the glass, even if he couldn’t quite corral all of the rebounds he got his fingertips on.
* Brooks went with a lineup of Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant and Ibaka for a bit. And with that unit, KD had to guard Griffin while Ibaka was on Jordan. I honestly was concerned for KD’s safety.
* Durant on losing to the Clippers in a game that was a big test for both teams. “If we would have won the game, you guys would have said ‘It’s too early to crown them.’ We lost the game so it’s too early to say our season is going down the drain. We got a lot more tests down the road. We lost this game to a really good team. We can’t hang our heads. Our season’s not over. We’re 5-2. We got a game tomorrow.”
* Up next: at Golden State on Thursday.