The Thunder beat the Clippers 118-112 Friday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Here’s what I saw and heard:
This was a well-coached game by Scotty Brooks. He was saddled with foul trouble in the first – Serge Ibaka got No. 2 just 3:11 into the game, Thabo Sefolosha got No. 2 less than a minute later and Reggie Jackson also picked up two in the first quarter.
Yet Brooks juggled his lineup well. Nick Collison played 8:05 in the first quarter and had a plus-five in scoring differential. Collison helped slow Blake Griffin, who was having a monster first quarter. When Collison entered the game, Griffin had made three of four shots and scored nine points. Griffin missed his only two shots the rest of the period, though he did make five more foul shots.
Then in the fourth quarter, Brooks went with a small lineup and made the Clippers adjust. Kevin Durant guarded 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan and did a superb job. Jordan’s fourth-quarter numbers: one shot, one basket, one offensive rebound, one defensive rebound, no blocked shots. The Thunder will take that.
“I thought he did a great job of knowing DeAndre’s tendencies … and knowing where he was going to be and what he wanted to do,” Caron Butler said of Durant. “Knowing the play calling and stuff. He was very vocal anchoring the defense in the back. Kevin, he’s remarkable.”
The Clippers in the fourth quarter made 10 of 26 shots and scored just 22 points.
Meanwhile, the small lineup forced Griffin to often guard Butler on the perimeter. It didn’t go well. Reggie Jackson found Butler for an open 3-pointer, then Durant found Butler for two more 3-pointers. All three Butler treys put the Thunder ahead and left the Clipper defense deflated.
“Caron was doing a great job of spacing,” Durant said. “Serge had some good picks for them. He did what he’s been doing for awhile. Knocking down those shots. We trust him to hit those shots. We’re always going to go to him, no matter what, if he’s open.”
And one final Brooks note: the Thunder defense did a great job in the final 30 seconds, forcing the Clippers into two-point shots. After Reggie Jackson missed two foul shots with 20.3 seconds left, the Thunder lead remained 115-109 and the Clippers had a chance. But OKC didn’t let LA have a sniff at a 3-pointer, and the Clippers settled for a Redick drive. He missed a layup, Russell Westbrook rebounded and the game was effectively over.
THE SERIES OF WESTBROOK
The numbers of Russell Westbrook are growing more and more amazing in this Clipper series:
* Westbrook made just one of his first seven shots. At that point, midway through the second quarter, he also had two turnovers. Then he went into Westbrook mode. Scored the Thunder’s final nine points of the first half, all in the final 90 seconds.
In the second half, Westbrook made three of four shots, three of four foul shots and his only 3-point launch. He had 10 points and eight assists in the half with no turnovers.
* In this series that includes J.J. Redick and Kevin Durant and Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler and Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes, the best 3-point shooter so far has been Chris Paul, who’s made 60 percent of his shots, thanks to that 8-of-9 performance in Game 1. The second-best long-range shooter has been Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has made six of 12 3-pointers: 2-of-5, 2-of-4, 2-of-3 in succeeding games.
* Westbrook’s series averages: 27.7 points, 9.0 assists, 7.3 rebounds. Shooting 58 percent from the field. Paul’s averages: 23.3 points, 12.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds. Shooting 60.5 percent. This is a battle royale.
* In the five games starting with Game 6 at Memphis, Westbrook has averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 54.9 percent field-goal shooting, 55.6 3-point shooting, 5.7 turnovers.
The Clippers have little answer for Kevin Durant. But things could be worse.
Durant played 45:48 of Game 3. Matt Barnes was on the court for 36:03 of that time. That means Durant played 9:45 against other defenders – Jared Dudley some, Jamal Crawford(?!) at other times. In that 9:45, Durant scored 11 points and made four of seven shots. With Barnes on the court, Durant made 10 of 17 shots and scored 25 points.
But the difference is the kind of shots Durant was getting. When Barnes was on the bench, Durant scored on a dunk, a drive and two in-the-lane runners. Barnes generally made Durant take tougher shots.
The Thunder’s point totals in this series: 105, 112, 118. The Thunder’s field-goal percentages: .459, .506, .557.
“We obviously have to play defense better, and I have to coach defense better,” said Clip coach Doc Rivers. “Neither team played a lot of defense tonight. We had 112 points. They are a very good offensive team, and so are we. But I thought they did enough. They shot above 50 percent. We didn’t. I thought that was the difference in the game. They got everything. They got threes, layups, key second shots. Down the stretch, they made every big play. Every shot they needed went in.”
CLIPPERS GROWING COLD
Paul made those eight of nine 3-pointers in Game 1. Other than CP3 in that game, the Clippers have made just 23 of 73 long-range shots. Barnes if six of 20. J.J. Redick is four of 10. Crawford is five of 18. Paul is four of 11. That’s not ghastly shooting. But for a team that can live on 3-pointers, it’s been discouraging for the Clips.
CLIPPERS WARMING UP
With that said, the Clipper inside game finally got going. Griffin scored 34 points. He made 10 of 16 shots at the basket and took only six shots of any length at all. That’s what the Clippers need. And Jordan got more good shots than he had been, making five of eight for 11 points. None of Jordan’s shots were farther than one foot from the basket. So the LA big men combined to make 15 of 24 inside shots. The Thunder needs to shore that up.
“We didn’t finish a lot at the basket,” Rivers said, perhaps referring to missed dunks by Jordan and Griffin. “I think they hurt us. I don’t know what the points in the paint were. They crushed us there (52-48).
“The way I look at it, it’s always going to be a make/miss league. That’s why you have to lean on your defense so you can fortunately make the other team miss more.”
Reggie Jackson had 14 points, wiping out the taste of two meager performances in OKC. Jackson had just four points in each of the first two games. In four road playoff games so far, he’s averaged 16.5 points. In five home playoff games, Jackson has averaged 8.2 points.
Said Kendrick Perkins, “I told Reggie, whatever he’s doing on the road, he need to do at home.”
Jackson continually got to the rim with acrobatic moves. He said he had been doing that in the first two games but just hadn’t finished the shot. So I looked it up. And Jackson is wrong. He had NOT been getting the basket. Jackson was just 1-of-3 combined the first two games on shots inside five feet. The lone make was a drive in the final minute of the Thunder’s commanding Game 2 victory. One of the misses was one of his patented runners. So when the game mattered, Jackson had gotten all the way to the basket just once.
IBAKA THE GREAT
What a game for Serge Ibaka. Nine of 10 shooting. Six rebounds, all in the second half. Ibaka was hot early, when he had to go to the bench. He stayed hot in the third quarter. Here are his third-quarter shots: 17-foot swish from the left elbow, 18-foot swish from the left elbow, 17-foot swish from the left elbow, 17-foot swish from the left elbow. Great shooting off the pick’n and pop. The first jumper came off a Durant pass, the second from a Sefolosha pass and the final two off Westbrook passes.
In the fourth quarter, Ibaka got physical. He scored on a muscle shot to give OKC a 104-101 lead, then rebounded a Durant miss and dunked home a basket that made it 106-101 with four minutes left.
“He did a great job of being focused,” Westbrook said of Ibaka. “I thought he did a good job with Blake, making him make some tough shots and knocking down some shots as well.”