Defense was problem one, two, three and all the way up to 122 on Monday night.
With the way the Thunder failed to defend the Clippers – giving up 15 threes and 55 percent shooting in the 122-105 Game 1 blowout loss – not much else would have mattered. That was the clearest of issues that needs immediate solving.
But amidst the avenue of Clipper layups and open threes was another sore spot that needs patching – bench play.
Entering this series, and nearly any NBA series, the battle of the reserves sits as one of the biggest X-factors. In the Thunder’s wins against Memphis, it torched the Grizzlies reserves. In the losses, it got burned.
But Beno Udrih and the Memphis reserves are far less potent than Jamal Crawford and the Clippers second-unit.
That was immediately evident on Monday night.
Chris Paul and the Clippers starters blitzed the Thunder, staking L.A. to a 31-22 lead. But even after they started flooding to the bench, the lead kept ballooning.
Early in the second quarter, it was a 16-point cushion. By the time Paul and Blake Griffin reentered, it was up to 19. Soon after, it was essentially over.
“I thought that was huge for us,” Rivers said. “Other than Chris setting the tone, I think the bench was the key to the game tonight.”
Paul said: “Our bench was amazing. That’s what they’ve done all season long.”
But Reggie Jackson did not show anyone why he was also considered a candidate for that award.
Jackson was great in the final four games of the Memphis series, averaging 17.5 points on 63 percent shooting and 10-of-15 from three. But in Game 1 against the Clippers, he reverted back to the nonexistent guy from Games 1 through 3 against the Grizzlies.
In 30 minutes, Jackson had four points on 1-of-8 shooting. He missed both of his threes and was one of a line of lost Thunder defenders who got burned by the sharpshooting Crawford. Only needing 19 minutes before a long fourth quarter rest, Crawford had 17 easy points on 11 shots.
“Jamal Crawford showed you why he was Sixth Man of the Year,” Paul said.
The Thunder’s bench woes, though, don’t fall squarely on Jackson. Caron Butler was back with the B Team on Monday night, and he struggled mightily. In 24 minutes against his former team, he had three points on 1-of-7 shooting.
That’s two makes on 15 combined attempts from the Thunder’s two biggest offensive sparkplugs. Against a team as potent as the Clippers, that’s a recipe for disaster.
“I believe in all of our guys,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said when asked about the bench struggles. “We have to make some adjustments.”
Beyond better team-wide defense – which clearly jumps to the top of the list – bench play might be the biggest among them.
The Thunder doesn’t have to severely outplay the Clipper reserves, but it can’t get annihilated like it did Monday night. Or this might be a short series.