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Oklahoma City Thunder: A look back at the Thunder-Clippers series

The Thunder-Clippers Western Conference semifinals didn’t have the late-game drama that punctuated the Thunder-Memphis series (four straight overtime games), but Thunder-Clippers had a plethora of personality subplots and intriguing battles.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 17, 2014
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STERLING SPECTRE

The entire series was played against the backdrop of the Clipper scandal involving owner Donald Sterling, who was recorded making racist comments, which were released during L.A.’s first-round series against the Warriors. The story wouldn’t die.

During the series, Sterling gave an embarrassing interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and Sterling’s estranged wife gave an interview to Barbara Walters. Both Sterlings expressed an interest in retaining ownership of the Clippers, even though NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the league will force the Sterlings to sell.

Also during the series, the NBA appointed a new Clipper CEO, Dick Parsons. As the face of the franchise, coach Doc Rivers had to constantly deal with the Clipper upheaval, and his players were constantly asked about it.

“Obviously it’s nothing that anybody wants to go through, nothing I want to go through,” Rivers said of the Sterling mess. “Overall, I thought our fan base and I thought the city and I thought our guys really hung in there. Very proud of them.”

BAD BLOOD & REAL BLOOD

These teams had sparred during regular-season games in recent years. That didn’t change in the series.

Nine technical fouls were called, including three on Kevin Durant and two on LA’s Matt Barnes. Blake Griffin suffered a bloody nose when his face caught Serge Ibaka’s bicep. Russell Westbrook received a flagrant foul for an excessive hit on Griffin. Ibaka hit Griffin in the family jewels, albeit unintentionally, as evidence by the lack of a foul call or any league action.

Durant and Paul, two friends and faces of the league, barked at each other with some words that wouldn’t please Durant’s grandmother.

Of course, everyone made nice after Game 6. Lots of hugs all the way around, and kind words.

“Clippers, definitely you got to take your hat off to them,” Durant said. “What happened to them (the Donald Sterling scandal) the last few weeks, to continue on fighting. It was almost cool to see them keep staying together and everyone kind of rallying around them. It was fun playing them.”

HOMECOMING ANTI-HEROES

Blake Griffin grew up in Oklahoma City. He was booed in his hometown. Russell Westbrook grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, next to Los Angeles International Airport. He was booed in his hometown.

Such are the allegiances of these teams’ fan bases. Griffin, who also starred at OU, rapidly is becoming an OKC villain. He’s also rapidly becoming a dominating player. Griffin is expected to be named all-NBA first team this season, and he put up big numbers against the Thunder — 23.8 points a game, 8.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists.

Still, the Thunder did a solid job on Griffin, with Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison riding Griffin hard. Griffin shot just 46.3 percent from the field in the series.

“Disappointed,” Griffin said. “I feel like it could have been a very different series, with just a couple small things.”

DURANT’S DOMINANCE

After a grueling series against Memphis defensive whiz Tony Allen, Kevin Durant figured to have more freedom on offense against the Clippers. Indeed he did.

Durant had one poor shooting game — 6-of-22 in Game 5 — but still was dominant. He averaged 33.2 points per game in the series, with 9.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He shot 45.5 percent from the field.

Durant’s numbers continue to amaze. He missed a Game 2 triple double by one assist. He had 40 points in Game 4 and 39 points in Game 6. Sixteen rebounds in Game 6. Even the poor shooting game, Durant rallied to score 10 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes to fuel a big comeback.

“Lost some sleep at night preparing for these guys,” Durant said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster sometimes. But that’s what the playoffs is all about.”

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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