By all accounts, Sunday's game between the Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers was a physical affair between two teams fighting for Western Conference supremacy.
With 1:52 remaining in the game, it became particularly physical when Thunder forward Serge Ibaka was whistled for a Flagrant I foul after punching former Oklahoma standout Blake Griffin in the groin.
The Clippers wound up scoring seven points on one possession (two 3-pointers, plus one free throw) and took their only lead (100-99) in a game OKC eventually went on to win 108-104 before a sellout crowd at Staples Center.
“He hit my hands away,” Ibaka told reporters afterward. “He's strong, so when he grabs you, your jersey or whatever, and you try to defend yourself and rebound. So maybe you can do some move, not to hurt, (but) just to get good position, but then something happens where you get hurt in the paint. It's not anything where I want to try to hurt him. I'm not that kind of person. I just try to play hard, and that's it.
“I just tried to play hard. I really don't care if someone is dirty or not, that's not my problem. His game was intense. We all were complaining to the referees (about) some dirty stuff. It's basketball. We just played. If you can see the replay, you can see he grabbed my jersey first so I wanted to try to defend myself, (but) not to hurt him.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins had his own take. “I didn't see it to where it was like that flagrant,” Perkins told USA Today. “He (Griffin) took (Ibaka's) arm and knocked him down. The dude (Griffin) is known for flopping anyway, so that's what it is. I was (angry). The (Clippers') reaction after that was kind of like Serge Ibaka against Blake Griffin.
“He (Ibaka) ain't going to get the benefit of (the doubt) or what's really happening down there. You ain't seeing all the stuff that other people are doing. Serge ends up getting the bad end of the stick. I didn't like the whole thing — period. I thought it should've been a double-foul.”
Griffin said: “I guess it's a chippy game like that every time we play. We're both pretty physical teams with physical bigs. There was a lot of pushing and all that going on down low.”
NOT HALF BAD
Thunder players agreed the first half was as complete a performance offensively and defensively the Thunder has played against an elite opponent this season.
OKC led 54-41 at halftime and led by as many as 16. The Clippers had 16 turnovers, which tied for the most ever in a half against the Thunder.
Kevin Durant had 20 points and five rebounds by intermission, while Russell Westbrook added 17 points (14 in the first quarter).
“We were moving the ball,” Durant said. “I think we did a really good job closing the paint up. They had three dunks in the first half and that's what gets their team going, that's what gets their building going. It's the lobs and the dunks.”
In the second half, however, the Clippers exploded for 63 points and had just five turnovers.
IN A ZONE
An effective zone defense was partial responsible for the Clippers' second-half comeback. A fluid Thunder offense often became stagnant after intermission and OKC shot just 21.4 percent (3 for 14) from 3-point range in the second half.
“I definitely think it's something we can use in the future,” All-Star point guard Chris Paul said of the zone. “It worked there for us up until those last two possessions … but that defense helped us. That's what helped us get back into the game. I think we've got to keep working on it. It's something that can be a weapon for us.”
For the second straight game, the Thunder inexplicably struggled at the free-throw line.
OKC shot 24 for 34 (. 706) in its last-second, two-point loss at Denver on Friday night. Against the Clippers, the Thunder started out 4 for 10 and finished 25 for 34 (. 735).
In the five previous contests, OKC shot 130 for 138 (. 942) from the line.
The Thunder made free throws when it mattered most on Sunday, going 13 for 14 in the second half, 7 for 7 in the fourth quarter and making its last 10 attempts.
The victory gave the Thunder a 3-0 season sweep against the Clippers, but All-Star point guard Chris Paul said that carries little weight.
“It doesn't (matter),” Paul said. “I think last year we were 3-1 against them during the season and they got to the NBA Finals. Both teams are still building, jockeying for position and stuff like that. But we need to keep building up wins because maybe some time again later in the season we'll see them again.”
ON THE FARM
Thunder players excelled in two games this weekend with the Tulsa 66ers, who have now won six straight and stand 21-15.
Perry Jones: 18.5 points; 6.5 rebounds; 1.5 blocks.
Jeremy Lamb: 20.5 ppg; 5.0 rpg; 3.0 apg
DeAndre Liggins: 8.0 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 3.5 apg; 3.5 steals; 1.0 blocks.
Durant initially wore a microphone for the game, but it was removed late in the first quarter because it felt uncomfortable. … In the race for a higher Western Conference seed, the Thunder (43-16) now has three fewer losses than the Clippers (43-19). … OKC outscored LA in points in the paint (48-34), fast-break points (14-7), second-chance points (16-14). … The Clippers lead the NBA in points off turnovers, but the Thunder won that, too (24-17).
Paul on the Clippers committing 16 first-half turnovers: “That's bogus. That's crazy. That's not like us. … We usually don't have 16 turnovers for the whole game. That's kind of embarrassing.”