Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul had a game for the ages

by Berry Tramel Published: May 6, 2014

Los Angeles' Chris Paul (3) shoots as Oklahoma City's Caron Butler (2) defends during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, May 5, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Los Angeles' Chris Paul (3) shoots as Oklahoma City's Caron Butler (2) defends during Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals in the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, May 5, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Chris Paul had a game for the ages Monday night: 32 points, 10 assists, 8-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. But it goes beyond that.

Paul made 12 of 14 shots. He committed two turnovers. He had zero foul shots. That means he had 16 usages. Remember, a usage is a possession used – a shot, a pair of foul shots or a turnover. It’s a possession accounted for.

Paul scored 32 points on 16 usages. That’s historic. That’s 2.0 points for every possession used. I have no idea if it’s an NBA record. But you will be hard-pressed to find better production.

Michael Jordan’s 69-point game against the Cavaliers in 1990? Jordan had 50 possessions for his 69 points.

Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Raptors in 2006? Kobe had 59 possessions for his 81 points.

David Robinson’s 71-point game in 1994? The Admiral had 61 possessions for his 71 points.

Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962? Wilt had at least 79 possessions (turnovers weren’t kept as an official stat back then).

Closer to home, Dirk Nowitzki’s 48-point game against the Thunder in Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals? Dirk made 12 of 15 shots and all 24 of his foul shots. He had 29 possessions for his 48 points.

None of those epic games approach 2.0 points per possession. Chris Paul was something extra special in Game 1.

DEFENSIVE OPTIONS

Of course, now the Thunder has to figure out what to do about CP3. Part of the problem is that the Thunder went back to its defensive starting lineup, so it’s hard to know where to look for help.

Thabo Sefolosha returned to the starting lineup. He played just 15:53, and the Thunder was outscored by eight points with Thabo on the court. On this night, that’s outstanding. Sefolosha played 33 defensive possessions; the Clippers scored 45 points on those possessions. Not including the fourth quarter, which was a JV game, and the four LA possessions consumed by those automatic fouls that sent DeAndre Jordan to the line in the third quarter, the Thunder faced 38 Clipper possessions without Thabo and allowed 58 points. So the Thunder gave up 1.36 points per possession with Thabo, 1.53 without him.

Kendrick Perkins played just 13:34. The Thunder was outscored by 17 points during that span. The Clippers had 27 possessions with Perk on the court and scored 43 points. Again discounting the fourth quarter and those four LA possessions with the intentional fouls, the Clippers had 44 possessions with Perkins on the bench, and scored 60 points. So the Thunder gave up 1.59 points per possession with Perkins on the court and 1.36 with him on the bench.

It’s a small sample size, but keep an eye on it. Steven Adams played 15 meaningful possessions, and the Clippers scored but 19 points in those chances. Unfortunately, Adams and Jordan were on the court together for only two possessions (Chris Paul scored both times), so we don’t have much to go on in trying to figure out how Adams will fare when paired against Jordan.

DEFENSIVE LAPSES

Here’s how you know the Thunder defense wasn’t locked in. OKC didn’t commit a foul the first 101/2 minutes of the game. At that point, the Clippers already had 34 points and had made 13 of 20 shots.

And through three quarters, the Clippers had committed just four turnovers. Two of those came early in the game, when the Thunder was playing LA tough. Between Sefolosha’s steal with 8:20 left in the first quarter and Big Baby Davis’ offensive foul with 9:56 left in the game, the Clippers had two turnovers. One was a three-second violation, the other an Ibaka steal off Griffin. That’s two turnovers in 34:22 of play.

The Thunder defense was completely lacking intensity.

DURANT & WESTBROOK

If the Thunder defense hadn’t stunk up the joint so bad, the Thunder offense would be drawing praise today. Through three quarters, the Thunder had 78 points on 76 possessions. That’s not great, but that’s not terrible. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to make 18 of 33 shots, and both got to the foul line with regularity – Westbrook was 9-of-10, Durant 5-of-8. Each was 2-of-5 from 3-point range. They had too many turnovers (nine combined), but considering Westbrook didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter and Durant just 1:20, that’s a good day’s work.

Westbrook scored 29 points on 25 possessions used. Durant scored 25 points on 26 possessions used. So the Clippers did a decent job on Durant, not quite as good on Westbrook.

Of course, Westbrook’s defense, mostly on Paul, was abysmal, so it’s hard to say Westbrook played a solid game.

WHERE’S IBAKA?

Can someone please keep Serge Ibaka involved in the offense? He had seven shots in the first seven minutes. He made four of them and the Thunder had an 18-18 tie. Then Serge had two shots the rest of the game, and one of those came off a rebound – he followed a Durant missed foul shot for a putback just before halftime. The Thunder literally went 28 game minutes without finding Ibaka a shot within the offense.

Ibaka finished 6-of-9 from the field, for 12 points. It’s the seventh time in eight playoff games this season he’s made six field goals. Ibaka is 45 of 74 shooting this post-season, which is 61.8 percent, and he’s playing against all-stars or elite talent – Blake Griffin and Jordan with the Clippers, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with the Grizzlies.

ADJUSTING FROM MEMPHIS

We all thought the Thunder would look much freer against the Clippers, after seven grueling games against the rugged Grizzlies. And we were right, offensively. But the game was culture shock for OKC’s defense. After seven games against the slow-down Griz, the Thunder clearly wasn’t ready for the high-flying, quick-moving Clippers.

“I do think we had a tough time adjusting to their speed after the last series, which was much slower-paced,” said Nick Collison. “I don’t know if it caught us by surprise, but we have got to be a lot better. We’ve got to be a much different team in Game 2. We’ll watch film, and hopefully that’s what we’ll do – come out and be a different team.”

THUNDER BOLTS

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb showed some fourth-quarter life. Each made three fourth-quarter baskets and each scored eight points. But I wouldn’t put much stock in it. It was total garbage time.

The Thunder’s 3-point defensive lapses really were a Chris Paul defensive lapse. Through three quarters, the Clippers outside of Paul had made just four of 14 3-pointers. OKC can live with that. Jamal Crawford was just 1-of-4, and J.J. Redick was 1-of-2. Limiting Redick to two long-range shots is excellent. But CP3 made eight of nine and skewed the total.

The two late-season additions – the Thunder’s Caron Butler, the Clippers’ Danny Granger – weren’t factors. At least weren’t positive factors. Butler, bought out of his Milwaukee contract and signed by the Thunder, made just one of seven shots, though he did have six rebounds. Granger, bought out by Philadelphia and signed by LA, made just one of five shots and finished with five points and five rebounds.

* Reggie Jackson’s only basket (he was 1-of-8) was an 18-footer from almost straight away. He banked it in. I think we can assume he didn’t mean to.


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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