Kevin Durant famously thanked his teammates Tuesday upon winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. Durant’s teammates thanked him back Wednesday night in the best way possible.
Durant was his usual phenomenal self, and Russell Westbrook was fantastic, too. But the Thunder popped the Clippers 112-101 with ease because the Thunder cornerstones had help. And lots of it.
Thabo Sefolosha, banished to the ranks of DID NOT PLAY, COACH’S DECISION, only two games ago, scored nine points in a seven-possession span in which the Thunder blew open the game.
Kendrick Perkins was a beast, outscoring and outrebounding Clipper center DeAndre Jordan.
Serge Ibaka outplayed Blake Griffin.
The Clippers can live with Durant and Westbrook flirting with triple doubles. The Clippers can’t live with the Thunder foot soldiers making stellar contributions.
Durant had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Westbrook had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. They combined to make 23 of 42 shots.
“What we can’t do is give them that plus everything else,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “That’s what happened tonight. They were the tougher team tonight for sure.”
Everyone saw Westbrook steal the ball on Los Angeles’ opening possession and draw a foul from Chris Paul. But Rivers saw something else.
“They were by far the more physical team,” Rivers said. “It started with the first play of the game. Sefolosha bumps us (J.J. Redick) off our spots.”
Sefolosha’s defense actually was shaky early – Redick scored 14 first-half points – but he shut down Redick in the third quarter, when the Thunder blew open this game. And Thabo lit the fuse, with 14 points, his first game over 10 points since before the all-star break.
Sefolosha’s 3-pointer gave the Thunder an 87-73 lead; a moment later, he swiped the ball from LA’s Jamal Crawford and went all the way for a dunk. And then Thabo stole the inbounds pass, setting up a Westbrook 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 17-point lead. The rest of the game was just details.
Meanwhile, Perkins had eight points and nine rebounds. The Clippers’ Jordan, who can jump from his knees higher than Perk can just off his feet, had seven points and eight rebounds. Such a performance pained Gran Torino’s old Celtics coach.
“I can’t believe what he was doing offensively,” Rivers said. “They just had a lot of energy. Energy finds the ball. Tonight, that’s exactly what happened. Russell Westbrook, offensive rebounds (six). Perk did it over and over again. Sefolosha did it over and over again. That’s why they won the game.”
Good thing, too, that Durant and Westbrook had plenty of help, since the Thunder bench was lacking again. And quite fitting that Thabo, Perk and Ibaka, their long-time cohorts in the starting lineup, excelled only two games after Thabo was benched for the final two games of the Memphis series.
But Durant said he figures it had little to do with his speech Tuesday that resonated with people all over America.
“I think it was more fuel because we lost” Game 1, Durant said. “We lost by 20 points. We were pissed off.”
And now the series goes to Los Angeles tied 1-1. A five-game series, now, with the Clippers holding homecourt advantage. But homecourt hasn’t meant much in any of these NBA playoffs. What has mattered is superstars showing up, which rarely is a Thunder problem. Superstars showing up and getting help from guys who might be overlooked but feel appreciated. Now more than ever.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.