A promising showdown of the NBA's best two teams started on a sour note Tuesday when Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro announced shortly before tipoff against the Thunder that star guard Chris Paul would not play because of a bruised knee.
Paul, one of the league's premier point guards, currently ranks second in the NBA in assists at 9.7 per game to go along with his 16.6-point average. Led by Paul, the Clippers had compiled a 32-10 record entering Tuesday's game.
Eric Bledsoe started in Paul's place.
BLAKE GRIFFIN GETTING BETTER
Former OU and OCS star Blake Griffin entered Tuesday's game averaging a team-leading 18 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Clippers, but both are career lows.
Yet the widespread belief is that Griffin has gotten better.
“He's expanded his game offensively,” said Nick Collison. “He's more skilled. He's better in the post. He's a better midrange shooter. He's always been a crazy athlete, but I think Chris Paul helps him out, too. He gets him the ball where he can make easy buckets.”
A BATTLE OF THE BENCHES
While the Thunder continues to figure things out on its second unit, the Clippers entered Tuesday continuing to pace all teams in bench scoring.
L.A. was averaging a league-leading 41.7 bench points entering Tuesday's game, 4.9 more than second-place Milwaukee. OKC, on the other hand, was averaging just 28.6 bench points.
“They're just one of the most talented teams, one through 10, in the league. They've got a lot of guys who can play,” Collison said. “Those really deep teams, you have to be ready to play the full 48 (minutes) because they'll put a run on you if you've got your guys on the bench. You've got to be able to count on everybody to play well.”
Kevin Durant when asked what impresses him about Russell Westbrook's game right now — “He's changing his game. He can score when he needs to. He can pass. He can rebound. He can get steals. He can block mascots' shots. He can do it all.”