The Spurs lead the Blazers three games to one. The Pacers lead the Wizards 3-1. The Heat leads the Netropolitans 3-1.
The Thunder should have been in that club. The Thunder squandered a 16-point lead with 9:02 left in Game 4 against the Clippers, lost 101-99 and now is tied 2-2 in the Western Conference semifinals. Here’s why the Thunder should be up 3-1 – and why the series could turn in the Clips’ favor:
1. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are making shots. Durant has made 45 of 89 shots in this series (50.6 percent) and Westbrook has made 39 of 72 (54.2 percent). If Durant and Westbrook are averaging 40 shots a game combined (which they are) and are making a combined 52.2 percent (which they are, 84 of 161), the Thunder should not be in a tight series.
2. The Clippers are not making 3-pointers. LA has made just 33 percent of its 3-pointers (34 of 103), and that’s with a 15-of-29 showing in Game 1. Since then, the Clippers have made just 19 of 74 3-point shots. Yet LA scratched its way to getting the series tied.
3. The Thunder is winning the rebounding battle. The Thunder has 49 offensive rebounds, the Clippers 44, even though OKC is outshooting LA in this series. The Clippers have missed 188 shots; the Thunder has missed 166 shots. But the Thunder has more offensive rebounds.
4. Westbrook is at least neutralizing Chris Paul. Not neutralizing as in stopping CP3, but neutralizing as in matching Paul’s production. And before you get to that, Westbrook has taken only six more shots than has Paul (72-66). Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game, while shooting 54.2 percent. Paul is averaging 23.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists per game, while shooting 54.5 percent.
5. The Clipper big men have not been all that efficient. Blake Griffin has averaged 24.3 points a game, but he’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field. Griffin is a career 52.8 percent shooter, the same figure he shot during this regular season. Griffin’s rebounding is down (7.0 per game, from his 9.5 during the season). So is DeAndre Jordan’s (9.5, after an NBA-leading 13.6).
So why isn’t the Thunder in control of this series?
Role players. The Thunder role players have not produced. Reggie Jackson, despite a good Game 3, has made just 12 of 29 shots. Caron Butler has made just eight of 29. Derek Fisher just two of eight. Even Kendrick Perkins, who found his touch in the Memphis series, is just six of 15.
Meanwhile, the Clipper role players have been good. Darren Collison was a huge boost in Game 4, with 18 points. Big Baby Davis has made 11 of 14 shots.
The Clipper role players have come up big in certain situations. J.J. Redick was fantastic in Game 1. Collison in Game 4.
The Thunder went away from role players down the stretch of Game 4. The last possession in which a Boomer other than Westbrook or Durant shot the ball or committed a turnover, came on a Serge Ibaka jumper with more than seven minutes left.
If you don’t count Ibaka as a role player, and I don’t, then the time reverts back to a Jackson jumper with 8:44 left. In the final 8:43, every Thunder possession went to Durant, Westbrook and (once) Ibaka.
The Thunder should lead the series 3-1. Instead, it’s 2-2 and anybody’s ballgame.