Kevin Durant and Chris Paul got testy with each other Friday night in the Thunder’s Game 3 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, and the two stars didn’t mince words during the late second quarter verbal exchange or a day later in Durant’s case.
“I don’t give a damn about Chris Paul on the court,” Durant told The Oklahoman at Saturday’s practice.
The two got into an obscenity-laced back-and-forth after Durant attempted to swipe the ball from Paul’s hands following a Clippers possession. Each player then hurled four-letter words. It was a shocking exchange for two players who have classified themselves as friends.
“It’s a different monster when you’re playing on the court,” Durant explained. “That’s with everybody. That’s that competitive nature that comes out. That’s what I respect about this game and I respect about players who don’t let their friendship off the court mess with their teams, because it’s us against them. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s fun for me.”
Clippers players aren’t the only ones the Thunder is getting into it with.
Thunder players are attacking each other in this semifinals series.
In each of the last two games, a pair of Thunder teammates have gotten into heated arguments on the court. In Game 2, Durant and Reggie Jackson had a hostile verbal dispute. In Game 3, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook had to be separated before emotions escalated.
“That’s healthy. Because we like each other,” Durant insisted. “It’s not like I just don’t like Reggie, or Serge just doesn’t like Russ. We talk about it after the games. We laugh about it after the games. But it’s going to happen. I think it’s healthy. We all know how we are as individuals. I know Reggie, I know Serge and I know Russ, and I know it’ll happen throughout a game. It’s almost kind of funny but it’s healthy for our group because everybody wants to win so bad. We have that competitive edge and we want to see each other do well. So I don’t think anything’s wrong with it.”
Durant chewed out Jackson for an errant entry pass in Game 2, and Jackson took exception to the manner in which Durant got in his face, telling him to “Wake the (expletive) up.” It’s unclear why Ibaka and Westbrook were jawing.
A one-time weakness has turned into a significant strength for the Thunder in these playoffs.
Oklahoma City has out-rebounded its opponent in each of its 10 games this postseason. The Thunder holds a sizeable 480-399 advantage in that category entering Sunday afternoon’s Game 4 against the Clippers.
Three different Thunder players are averaging at least eight rebounds this postseason, and five Thunder players are pulling down at least four per game.
“Me and (Kendrick Perkins), we have been doing a better job (playing) off each other,” said Ibaka. “I always tell Perk, when he’s down (low) I’m going to stay out and you go for the rebound. When I’m down, you get back and I’ll go for the rebound. Also, Russ has been doing a great job of going to the offensive glass and coming to help us on defense, too. All we can do is stay focused on boxing out, and then Russ, Kevin (and) Thabo (Sefolosha) come get all the rebounds.”
BUTLER DID IT
When Caron Butler went to the foul line for three shots early in the second quarter, a Clipper fan roared above the din, telling Butler he was over the hill and saying the Clips were glad he was gone. Butler sank all three foul shots, then put his hand behind his ear as the fan grew silent.
Butler had that laugh and the last laugh, with three go-ahead 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points.
“Just having fun, man,” Butler said. “It feels good to be having fun, doing what you love doing. Happy to be back at it.”
Butler spent the previous two seasons with the Clippers, starting all 16 Los Angeles playoff games. He was traded to Phoenix in the offseason, cut by the Suns, signed his home-region Milwaukee Bucks and bought out of his contract in March.
And in Game 3 against the Clippers, Butler had his finest moment with the Thunder. Butler averaged just 7.5 points and shot 32.5 percent in the playoff series against Memphis. Then he struggled in the first two games against the Clippers.
“That was one of the reasons I really wanted to be here, I knew I’d have the opportunity to play,” Butler said. “You wanted to be in a situation where you fit. I felt like Oklahoma was the place for me. The first round, worked out great, had an opportunity to have my fingerprints on the success, and here we go again. It’s special and I’m really happy.”
SMALL BALL WORKS
Scott Brooks went with a small lineup the entire fourth quarter of Game 3. And the Thunder excelled, outscoring L.A. 32-22. Backups Butler and Jackson combined for 15 points, and Durant was matched against 6-foot-11 center DeAndre Jordan. In that fourth quarter, Jordan had two points, two rebounds and no blocked shots.
“I thought he did a great job of knowing DeAndre’s tendencies … and knowing where he was going to be and what he wanted to do,” Butler said. “Knowing the play calling and stuff. He was very vocal anchoring the defense in the back. Kevin, he’s remarkable.”
Jackson finished with 14 points. In four road playoff games so far, he’s averaged 16.5 points. In five home playoff games, Jackson has averaged 8.2 points.
Said Kendrick Perkins, “I told Reggie, whatever he’s doing on the road, he need to do at home.”