The Thunder came to Los Angeles for Game 6 and started poorly. But the Thunder finished strong and eliminated the Clippers 104-98 Thursday night from the Western Conference semifinals. Here’s what I saw and heard.
The Thunder wore down the Clippers. In a lot of ways. It wasn’t just the Thunder bench playing well, though it did. The OKC reserves outscored LA’s bench 35-17. It was Scotty Brooks’ belief in his bench.
Here are the minutes played by the Clipper starters: 42:18 (Matt Barnes), 40:53 (Blake Griffin), 40:18 (Chris Paul), 36:58 (DeAndre Jordan) and 29:07 (J.J. Redick). And Griffin would have played more had he not fouled out with 2:27 left.
Here are the minutes played by the Thunder starters: 44:06 (Kevin Durant), Russell Westbrook (39:09), Serge Ibaka (25:35), Thabo Sefolosha (13:14) and Kendrick Perkins (7:34). Ibaka suffered a calf injury, and Perk got in quick foul trouble. But the Thunder has a deeper and more versatile team.
Doc Rivers naturally rode his horses hard. That’s what you have to do in an elimination game. Same as a baseball team sending its entire pitching staff to the bullpen.
But Brooks had more options. Look at his big-man rotation. Brooks’ two backup bigs, Steven Adams and Nick Collison, combined to play 56:49. They combined to make six of eight, grab 13 rebounds, hand out two assists, make two steals and block two shots.
Adams was magnificent, with 10 points and 11 rebounds in almost 40 minutes. Collison was superb, too, and not just his corner 3-pointer that tied game with one second left in the third quarter, a shot that wiped out the Clippers’ last lead. Collison replaced the injured Ibaka with 7:24 left in the third quarter and played almost 17 minutes straight. Collison stayed in the game until Blake Griffin fouled out with 2:27 left. In those 17 minutes, Griffin made just three of eight shots and went to the line just once, making one of two. That’s seven points in 17 minutes against Collison. Of those eight Griffin shots, only five came from inside, where Griffin’s muscle can be too much for anyone, including Collison.
Collison was fresh. He helped wear down Griffin, who didn’t get off a shot his final 61/2 minutes on the court. Griffin said, “I don’t know,” when asked if he and the Clippers were drained by the end. “I mean, I thought we just got stagnant. I don’t know if it was energy. We just didn’t execute.”
And Adams was a match for DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers’ athletic 7-foot center. Perkins played Jordan well, too, but Adams curtailed Jordan’s rebounding. In 7:34 of court time against Perkins, Jordan didn’t get off a shot but had five rebounds. In 29:24 of court time against Adams, Jordan had 10 rebounds and nine points. But Adams had 11 rebounds and 10 points. That’s a career high in rebounds for Adams, regular season included, and only once all season did Adams score more than 10 points. So quite a time for Adams to play the best game of his rookie season.
KEVIN IS REAL (GOOD)
Kevin Durant had quite the night. Started 1-of-7 shooting but made eight of 10 in the middle two quarters. But here’s my favorite Durant stat of the night. He had 16 defensive rebounds. Sixteen! Let’s do some math. The Thunder had 36 defensive rebounds total. The Clippers had 12 offensive rebounds. Now, that’s individuals. A few team rebounds are mixed in there. But of the rebounds that were awarded to a ballplayer, Durant grabbed a full third of the Clipper misses: 16 of 48.
In this series, which included Jordan and Griffin and Serge Ibaka, the player with the most defensive rebounds was Durant. He had 53 in six games. Durant had 57 total rebounds in the series. Same as Jordan. Durant was the leading scorer (199 points) and rebounder in a series boasting all-stars everywhere.
As far as I’m concerned, Durant’s biggest contribution came in the second quarter. The Thunder trailed 41-27 and looked bad doing it. OKC had made just 11 of its first 31 shots, and Durant was 1-of-7. But he received the ball on the left wing and faked a pass to the corner. For some reason, Danny Granger bought the fake and took a few steps to his right. That left Durant literally all alone. He swished a 3-pointer and suddenly was out of his funk. Durant made two more 3-pointers quickly, all in a span of 77 seconds. The Thunder was back in the game, and Durant had found his shooting touch.
“It was big,” Durant said. “They messed up on their coverage on the 1-3 pick’n roll. I was able to get free. Russell made some great passes. I stayed disciplined on my shot. It got me going. That was a big few minutes for me individually. Got us going. We were missing shots, but you see the ball go in, you start to get confident.”
Reggie Jackson had been up and down in this series. But he was up in Game 6. Up, up, up.
The Thunder trailed 62-54 with 5:34 left in the third quarter, when Jackson replaced Sefolosha. Jackson played the rest of the game, and the OKC outscored the Clippers 50-36. That’s 50 points in 171/2 minutes. Jackson wasn’t dominant; he scored eight points, on 2-of-4 shooting, in the second half. Had two assists and no turnovers. But Jackson’s defense was good, though it often isn’t. And Jackson capped the game’s biggest run, a 10-0 spurt after it had been 80-80, by making a 3-pointer off a Durant pass.
“Reggie played some of the best defense I’ve ever seen him play since I’ve been here,” said Perkins. “I thought overall, with Steven, Nick, Fish (Derek Fisher) and Reggie, they came in and gave us a spark.”
Here’s what makes Russell Westbrook. He played poorly. Had a bad game. A real bad game. And still had 19 points and 12 assists. The Thunder outscored the Clippers by 12 points when Westbrook was on the court.
Westbrook couldn’t make a shot to save his life. He was just 4-of-15 from the field. Westbrook’s first basket came on a layup, via a Collison feed, with 3:47 left in the third quarter. His other baskets came on a putback off his own miss, a seven-footer and a fast-break layup. So Westbrook had very little going offensively. He fouled too much and had to sit out almost nine minutes of the first half. He was careless, with five turnovers. He was frustrated.
But Westbrook had seven assists in the third quarter alone. And he played some solid defense on Chris Paul. Through 40 minutes of this game, Paul had made just three of 11 shots. Westbrook at the same time had made three of 13. Paul went into desperation mode and finished 9-of-18 shooting, but three of his makes came in the final two minutes, when the Thunder was playing contain defense, not stop defense.
“Trying to find a way to win,” Westbrook said. “They did a good job putting two guys in front of me. My job was trying to find the open guy.”
GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN
The Thunder clearly is good enough to win the NBA title. The Clippers were good, too.
“We’re a team in process,” said Clipper coach Doc Rivers. “I believe we were good enough to win it this year. Oklahoma City told us we were not.”