With 8:15 left in the first quarter Wednesday night, the Thunder trailed the Clippers 10-7. With 3:05 left in the period, the Thunder led 31-23. Here’s how OKC took the lead.
It scored on 12 straight possessions. Only one of those scores was a trip to the foul line. It’s very difficult to lose a game in which you score on 12 straight possessions.
It’s virtually impossible to lose a game in which you score on 12 straight possessions in the first half, then score on eight straight possessions in the second half. That’s exactly what the Thunder did. Leading 68-64, but with the Clippers breathing down every Oklahoman’s neck, tensions were high. And the Thunder scored on eight straight possessions to take an 85-73 lead. LA never got within single digits again.
That’s high-level offense. Here’s what happened during those scoring sprees.
First quarter: In the 12 possessions, the Thunder made 11 of 12 shots, needing an offensive rebound only once. The outburst began with Kendrick Perkins’ muscle shot and didn’t end until Durant missed an 18-footer. Durant was the bellcow; he scored 10 of the 24 Thunder points, including nine straight — on back-to-back drives, a 16-footer and a 3-pointer. OKC’s only missed shot was a Durant runner that Durant himself rebounded and drew a foul. Russell Westbrook was fabulous, too; he made a 17-footer leaner, a 14-foot pullup, a drive against outmanned ex-UCLA teammate Darren Collison, a driving bank shot and a 10-footer. So that’s 10 points for Durant and 10 for Westbrook. Serge Ibaka made an 18-footer, too.
Third quarter: In the eight possessions, OKC outscored the Clippers 17-9. The Thunder made seven of eight shots, needing an offensive rebound only once. And unlike the first quarter, this wasn’t the Durant/Westbrook show. This was shared offense at its finest. Perkins didn’t score any of the 17 points. But Thabo Sefolosha had seven, Ibaka four, Durant and Westbrook three each. The only miss was a Westbrook 17-footer, which was rebounded and put back in by Ibaka. The spree began with a Durant 3-pointer – the biggest shot of the game, which stemmed that Clipper rally. Westbrook made one of two foul shots. And the outburst was punctuated by three straight dunks. After LA’s DeAndre Jordan missed a dunk (on one of his long-armed, stretch-out attempts), the Thunder went on the fast break, and Westbrook hit Sefolosha for a dunk. Then Westbrook got loose out of set-up offense for a dunk. And finally, Westbrook set up Ibaka for a dunk, again out of set offense.
The Thunder’s halfcourt offense was excellent most of the night. Which is a good sign for this series. This is not Memphis. The Thunder is getting its shots against the Clippers. Keep LA from dunking and setting up for open 3-pointers, and the Thunder should win this series.
If the Thunder could just slow down Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the theory went, the Thunder would have a big edge on the Clippers. Just limit Griffin’s production somewhere close to his average of 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds; just keep Jordan from 15 rebounds and five dunks. Through two games, the Thunder had done more than slow Griffin and Jordan.
Through two games, Griffin is averaging 19 points and six rebounds, but at a cost, since he’s shooting 12 of 29. Through two games, Jordan is averaging 7.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. Jordan’s forte is offensive rebounds and blocked shots. He has one offensive rebound and no blocked shots.
Serge Ibaka is ferociously defending Griffin. Perkins has had a rebirth, keeping Jordan away from the rim. And Steven Adams is helping both. I don’t know if the Thunder can keep that up. But if it does, this series is OKC’s.
Of Griffin’s 29 shots through two games, 14 have come outside the paint. And while the Thunder fouled him too much in Game 1 (12 foul shots), Griffin got just six foul shots in Game 2. The Thunder limited the Clippers to 29 shots total in the paint in Game 2.
“We did a good job with the basketball tonight, staying in front of it,” Brooks said. “They have really good guards, and they challenge you every time down the court. With that being said, you’ve got to challenge yourself every possession down the court to stay in front of them. It’s the game of basketball. You’ve got to stay in front of the basketball. You get beat, you have to have help, but you can’t expect it. You’ve just got to do your job and I thought our guys did a good job with that. I thought it was a very good defensive game for us.”
DURANT & WESTBROOK
It’s not likely that Westbrook can keep up his current statistical level. But it’s likely that Durant will improve his numbers against the Clippers.
Westbrook through two games: 22-of-36 shooting, 4-of-9 3-pointers, 60 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists, 10 turnovers. Westbrook is shooting 61 percent against the Clippers. There’s no reason why Westbrook has to fall far – Chris Paul and Collison are hard-pressed to keep up with him. Doc Rivers has to be thinking of other options, though there are few. I suppose Rivers could insert Jared Dudley from time to time to play with Matt Barnes, who covers Durant. But that would hurt the LA offense and likely wouldn’t help against Westbrook anyway. So Rivers is in a tough spot.
Durant through two games: 19-of-41 shooting, 5-of-14 3-pointers, 57 points, 16 rebounds, 13 assists, seven turnovers. Durant is playing well. Very well. But that 46 percent shooting is more likely to rise than to fall. Barnes is not a terrible defender, but he’s no Tony Allen. Durant could heat up and quick.
“We set the bar high for ourselves,” Durant said. “We have a high standard that we try to reach. We both work extremely hard. One thing about Russ is that he demands so much out of everybody. He brings the level of the team up just by his intensity and effort. But it is fun playing with a guy like that, who loves the game so much, who wants to win so much and puts his body on the line every night. It’s great chemistry we have and it’s growing every day.”
STOCKTON TO MALONE
The third quarter opened with Ibaka taking the ball on a drive from the top of the key, then dishing to Perkins, who sank a 5-footer. In four seasons, I’ll bet there haven’t been five times when Ibaka got an assist on a Perk basket.
TRIPLE DOUBLE QUEST
The game’s only downside, I thought, was the last seven minutes, when Durant and Westbrook both clearly were chasing a triple double. Both had double-digit scoring and rebounding, and both had nine assists. Durant reached Assist No. 9 with 8:57 left in the game. Westbrook reached Assist No. 9 with 6:18 left. At that point, the Thunder had a 105-87 lead.
For the next six minutes, Durant and Westbrook clearly looked for another assist. It’s hard to blame them. A triple double in the playoffs is a cool thing. If both had reached triple double status, it would have been an NBA playoff first for teammates.
But while looking for the assist, the Thunder offense stagnated. It’s actually a really good lesson. For all the talk of sharing the ball and moving the ball and getting others involved, the Thunder needs Durant and Westbrook shooting. Better for the two superstars to have just staged a two-man game, try to get their 10th assist from each other. In the Thunder’s 12 possessions after it became 105-87, the Thunder scored only on a Serge Ibaka foul shot, a Durant foul shot off a technical, another Ibaka foul shot, a Thabo layup on Westbrook’s 10th assist and a Reggie Jackson circus shot off a drive. Not good offense.
And by the way, Westbrook’s 10th assist was bogus.
According to nba.com, an assist is “a pass that directly leads to a basket. This can be a pass to the low post that leads to a direct score, a long pass for a layup, a fast break pass to a teammate for a layup, and/or a pass that results in an open perimeter shot for a teammate. In basketball, an assist is awarded only if, in the judgment of the statistician, the last player’s pass contributed directly to a made basket. An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”
Westbrook’s 10th assist came on a pass to Sefolosha in the corner. He caught the ball, sustained contact from defender Willie Green, gathered himself, wheeled around Green, dribbled twice down the baseline and went in for a layup. That’s not even close to matching the criteria.
Reggie Jackson through the first three games of the Memphis series: 3-of-19 shooting, 0-of-6 on 3-pointers, 15 points.
Jackson through the first two games of the Clipper series: 3-of-13 shooting, 0-of-2 on 3-pointers, eight points.
You know what Jackson did in Game 4 at Memphis. Saved the season with a 32-point game. If Jackson could stage a similar resurrection out in Los Angeles, it could be a fruitful trip out West.
And Caron Butler was horrid again. In two games, Butler has totaled six points, on 2-of-12 shooting.
Of course, when Perkins and Sefolosha (combined 22 points) score, the bench isn’t as important. Sefolosha made six of nine shots, two of five 3-pointers, and scored 14.
“In this series, they’re playing off of him, and focusing on me and Russell,” Durant said. “As penetrators, we always try to look for our shooters and tell them to shoot with confidence. I think the best thing we can do is keep passing them the ball. Thabo is one of those guys who plays extremely hard. He finds a way to get his hands on the basketball and maybe get a layup or get a steal and a pass. That gets him going. The defensive end is what got him locked in tonight and he was able to come out and be aggressive on the offensive end. Hopefully he continues to build on it and we’ve got to continue to trust him.”
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Actually, changing of the big man. Adams’ minutes the last four games, going back: 17:12, 19:27, 25:27, 20:08.
Nick Collison’s minutes the last four games, going back: 4:14, 7:46, 0:00, 7:19.
Adams is being asked to help out on Griffin and Jordan, just as he was asked to guard both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Big enough to match up with the big men. Athletic enough to match up with the athletes.
The Thunder was helped by the whistles in Game 2. Paul’s early foul trouble – his second foul came with 6:41 left in the first quarter; he sat out the rest of the first quarter, and a 16-13 Clipper lead became a 37-28 deficit. That’s 21 Thunder points. OKC was more than willing to take advantage of Collison. Westbrook and Collison are old UCLA teammates, and Collison brings out the best in Westbrook. Westbrook has a huge physical edge on Collison and takes advantage of it.
“Just taking what the defense gave me,” Westbrook said. “My job is to find a way to get into the paint. I thought that was the best way to use my size, to use my body to continue to put pressure on them on both sides of the floor.”
Paul’s plus/minus was instructive; OKC outscored the Clips by just two points with Paul on the court. Trouble was, he only played 31:23.
Jordan got in foul trouble, too, picking up his fourth with 8:25 left in the third quarter. Doc Rivers left Jordan in the game, but that might have been a mistake. Jordan had to play soft, and that’s when the Thunder went on that third-quarter spree.
Paul was peeved about his first foul, when he basically was whistled for running into the referee on the game’s first possession. But Paul also got by with a foul that instead was a no-call and turned everything LA’s way. Leading 46-40, Westbrook got clear on a drive. Paul literally grabbed Westbrook’s wrist, the whistle didn’t blow, Westbrook lost control as he went up for a shot, the Clippers rebounded, Westbrook fouled and both he and Scotty Brooks were called for technical. J.J. Redick sank both foul shots, then hit a 3-pointer. Instead of 48-40, with Paul getting his third foul, it was 46-45 and the Clippers went on to take the lead.
Before the game, Doc Rivers told the story of the 1995 MVP ceremony, won by David Robinson. Robinson was handed the trophy in a pregame ceremony before a playoff game against Houston and praised all the great opponents who could have won. Except he forgot Hakeem Olajuwon, his opponent that night. Olajuwon was motivated enough to dominate the game and the rest of the playoffs, leading the Rockets to the NBA title.
That didn’t happen Wednesday night with Durant, who didn’t mention any foes, so no one was offended. And Durant played superbly, especially coming out of the gate, with 17 first-quarter points.
“I was so focused on the game, but I didn’t want to take that moment for granted,” Durant said. “We’re never promised anything, so I just wanted to enjoy it, but also focus on the game. I thought the fans were tremendous in supporting me and cheering for me. It’s a surreal moment. It’s one of those things you don’t get to go through every single day. I just wanted to enjoy it, but also focus on the game at the same time.”
For all of Sefolosha’s third-quarter stardom, he had a rough start defensively. J.J. Redick got open early and often and threatened to shoot the Thunder into a 2-0 hole.
“Thabo came back and gave us a good defensive presence on Redick in that second half,” Brooks said. “I thought he had too many open looks in the first half, but he really locked in and did a much better job in the second half. And he hit some shots. Thabo’s been a good shooter for us for a couple years now. We have confidence in him. But I thought his defense in that third quarter gave us a spark that we needed. He had his hands on the basketball, contesting shots, got a couple steals, and then he made some shots.”