Here are five observations (and some lingering thoughts) from the Thunder’s 112-101 Game 2 win over the Clippers on Wednesday night:
1. Battle of the PGs - Maybe it’s as simple as this: Whoever wins the star-studded point guard battle, wins the game. That’s how it’s played out so far. Chris Paul was the story of Game 1, controlling the tempo and shooting the Thunder’s lights out. It was a career night for CP3. But on Wednesday, Russell Westbrook was just as dominant, coming back with a ferocious counterpunch. The final line was as loud as his floral pattern pink postgame shirt: 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. That’s already Westbrook’s third triple-double of the postseason. Nobody else in the league has even one. But more than the stats, it was his spirit. He brought that infectious energy from the jump, remaining explosive yet under control on offense and unleashing it in full force on defense. All things considered, one of the best performances of his career.
Chris Paul: “Russell probably played harder than all of us combined”
2. Film room: Westbrook in the post – For years, one of the biggest knocks on the Thunder’s offense has been its obvious lack of a back-to-basket post threat. And it remains a flaw. But in this series, Scott Brooks may have identified a temporary reprieve — the powerful Russell Westbrook against the undersized Clippers point guards. Chris Paul got into early foul trouble on Wednesday and with Darren Collison forced to check Westbrook, the Thunder planted him in the post. Westbrook immediately overwhelmed Collison, bumping him into the lane for this easy basket:
After that, it seemed Brooks had an epiphany. Because any time Collison was on Westbrook the rest of the game, the Thunder cleared a side of the floor and attacked the mismatch. When Westbrook’s mid-range is working like it was on Wednesday night, these mid-post isolations can be deadly. Westbrook can push Collison anywhere on the floor he wants to go and then drop a jumper right over him. Here are two more easy post-up buckets at the start of the fourth quarter:
Collison is scrawny and easy to pick on in the post. But Westbrook also has a decided size advantage over Chris Paul, too. Paul is stronger and sneakier than Collison, and there’s no doubt he’ll be ready with some defensive counters in Game 3. But I’d expect some mid-post iso calls early for Westbrook, much like this successful trip right through Paul:
Another thing that makes Westbrook so deadly in that mid-post area is his ability to identify and pass out of double-teams. The dude loves to jack up shots — sometimes ill-advised and often worthy of criticism — but when he wants to pass, Westbrook has some of the best vision in the game. And in the post, things slow down. It’s naturally more of a methodical attack, slowing his mind and body, while allowing him to survey the court. And because he has such a mismatch, the Clippers will be forced to double-team. Blake Griffin tried here and it burned him, with Westbrook firing an easy pass for an Ibaka jumper:
On this next one, DeAndre Jordan sees Westbrook backing down Collison again and is forced to shift all his attention toward the mismatch. Westbrook quickly identifies and fires a tough, bullet pass to Steven Adams on the right block for a reverse finish:
Russ in the post is a dangerous scenario for the Clippers. I’d expect to see it more as this series moves forward.
3. Containing the bigs - For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about the Thunder’s neutralization of the Clipper big men and how important that was in the Game 2 win. But it’s worth mentioning a bit more. Serge Ibaka is doing a fantastic defensive job on Blake Griffin through two games. Griffin shot 5-of-13 on Wednesday and is at 41 percent for the series, struggling to plow through the powerful and athletic Ibaka, who has done a great job of forcing him away from his strong hand. Per ESPN, Griffin went 3-of-11 against Ibaka on Wednesday and is now 6-of-21 against him this series. And when Ibaka has needed a breather, Scott Brooks has done a great job rotating in Steven Adams. The Thunder rookie continues to play well, adding six points, five boards and a ton of agitating tussles and elbows in his 17 minutes. He’s a perfect high-energy, athletic big to throw on Griffin for stretches.
And, quietly, Kendrick Perkins is also doing a number on DeAndre Jordan. Perk had more points (8 to 7) and rebounds (9 to 8) than Jordan on Wednesday night. He’s done a great job of leaning on the Clippers high-flying center, always maintaining contact and not allowing him free space for the alley-oop game. Offensively, Jordan can’t beat you other ways. But he’s got a unique talent for rebound-putbacks and hard-to-reach slams. Perkins has taken that away, while also sprinkling in some offensive contributions on the other end. Can’t ask for much more from him.
Doc Rivers: “I coached Perk. I’m pissed at him. I can’t believe what he did offensively”
4. KD – This was the kind of game we got used to from Kevin Durant this season. It’s not just the gaudy numbers — 31 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists — but the ease in which he got it. Against Memphis, he put up his points, but it was often inefficient and always a labor-intensive task. Against the Clippers, though, it’s been the opposite. The jumpers have been open, the air space has been generous. No one on L.A. can guard him. Matt Barnes? No shot. Danny Granger? Not even in his prime. Jared Dudley? Please. The creative Doc Rivers got so desperate at one point in the fourth quarter, he went small and tried Chris Paul on Durant. Not a terrible idea. Durant has had trouble with smaller guys in the past, most recently Tony Allen. But Paul isn’t Tony Allen. No one on the Clippers is. And when it comes to guarding KD, that’s an unsolvable problem.
-Per Elias, Westbrook and Durant became the first teammates in NBA history to both have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the same game. That’s regular or postseason.
5. Welcome to the playoffs, Thabo - There was a moment mid-way through the first quarter, after Thabo Sefolosha clanged two 3s on one end and allowed a trio of open 3s on the other, where you had to start wondering…how long until Scott Brooks pulls the plug on his starting job for good? Missing shots is acceptable. But multiple defensive breakdowns for a so-called specialist is not. But just as the thought started to take shape in your head, Sefolosha went out and had his best stretch of basketball this season. At the start of the second half, he came out aggressive on the offensive end, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter. He hit a couple 3s, dunked on a fastbreak and confidently nailed a mid-range. Plus, he was a menace on defense, keying an explosive and crucial 11-0 with two crafty steals. It was a needed reminder of what he can bring to the team when playing at his peak level.
-Reggie Jackson’s two games: 3-of-13 shooting, eight points, four turnovers. A non-factor again on Wednesday, with Scott Brooks limiting the ineffective guard to 12 minutes. His Clippers series has started much like the Memphis one. The Thunder can only hope it ends the same way, too.
-Foul trouble was a major issue for the Clippers: Paul and Jordan had five, Griffin and Barnes had four. Paul’s, in particular, hurt them. He had to sit patches of the first half and they struggled in his absence.
-Vine of the game: *Jim Ross WWE voice*Oh Nooo!!! Here comes Stone Cold Steve Adams!!!! From the turnbuckle!!!!*Jim Ross WWE voice*
-Highlight of the game – This Russell Westbrook crusher:
-I could watch a confused Big Baby run around, hit random jumpers, set crushing screens and give oblivious looks all day. He’s hilarious to watch and RIDICULOUSLY wide in person. An example of his confused facial expressions:
-Photo of the game (via Bryan Terry): Love the lighting in this photo
-Up next: Game 3 in L.A. on Friday night at 9:30 CT on ESPN
-Darnell Mayberry on a special night for the Thunder’s dynamic duo
-Jenni Carlson on Westbrook’s big night
-Berry Tramel on the surprising contributions of OKC’s supporting cast