With 61 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the public address announcer inside Chesapeake Energy Arena had the audacity to request Loud City make some noise for its Thunder’s defense.
Apparently, he wasn’t aware of what the scoreboard showed.
Oklahoma City at that point had already allowed triple digits and trailed by 24 points.
Not surprisingly, roughly 15 seconds later, Blake Griffin stormed down the lane and sent home another uncontested, rim-rattling dunk.
And so it went in the Thunder’s 122-105 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 on Monday night.
Oklahoma City’s defense flat out disappeared, and the high-powered Clippers offense wasted no time taking advantage and dealing the Thunder one of its worst defeats in its brief playoff history.
But this one was over long before the final buzzer.
The Clippers controlled the game from the moment it erased a short-lived six-point Thunder lead with a 24-6 run that put them ahead by double digits late in the first quarter.
The game was really over, though, with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. That’s when Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler popped off the Thunder bench to replace Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. It was the moment OKC, on this night, conceded that it had no answer for its biggest concern, which was stopping these Clippers.
With his team trailing 82-58, Thunder coach Scott Brooks subbed out his two best defensive players and stuck his best offensive lineup on the floor. He had given up trying to stop the Clippers. By then, he was simply trying to keep up.
“We had to change,” Brooks said. “We had to make some adjustments and change a few of our pick-and-roll coverages. And we changed a few of our lineups and played small.”
“We didn’t do a good job playing big. We didn’t do a good job playing small,” Brooks added.
The Clippers went on to lead by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter before the Thunder’s third string made the final margin look at least somewhat respectable in garbage time. The Thunder allowed three straight quarters of at least 30 points in the first three periods and had all kinds of trouble defending the paint and 3-point line.
Things got so bad that OKC resorted to intentionally fouling Clippers center DeAndre Jordan with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter. It was a desperation move that turned out to be the Thunder’s best defense of the night. Jordan went 1-for-8 from the foul line during that stretch. Still, the Thunder made up just three points, illustrating the type of night it was.
Chris Paul scored a game-high 32 points with 10 assists and just two turnovers to lead the Clippers. He made 12 of 14 shots and went 8-for-9 from 3-point range. Griffin added 23 points, and Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford chipped in 17 off the bench.
Russell Westbrook scored a team-high 29 points for the Thunder. Kevin Durant finished with 25 points.
The Clippers shot 54.9 percent from the field and made 15 of 29 3-pointers. They made just 17 free throws.
Paul was nearly perfect early, dropping in 17 points in the first period and making eight of nine shots, including all six of his 3-point tries in the first half. He added six assists to go with his 22 first-half points, controlling the Clippers’ offense with the precision and poise that has him firmly established as the league’s best point guard.
“When somebody’s got it going like that you just want to stay out of the way as much as possible,” said Griffin.
Clippers wings Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick supplied three additional 3s, two of them coming off assists from Paul. L.A. made seven of 10 3-pointers in the opening period and nine of 16 in the first half. It was a stark but not surprising difference from the first-round series with Memphis, which averaged just 3.8 3-poiners against the Thunder and never made more than seven in any game.
L.A.’s success from long range sucked the Thunder’s defense farther out and, as a result, loosened up opportunities for the Clippers to score in the paint.
At that point, things only snowballed.
“When a guy hits five or six 3s in a row, you don’t want to give him no more,” Durant said. “That’s when they started to get some stuff in the paint…We got to correct it. We got to make them miss next game.”
Westbrook tried to match wits with Paul with his aggression and almost did. He scored 16 points in the first half but had just two assists and five of the Thunder’s 11 costly first-half turnovers. The Clippers turned those giveaways into 13 points. OKC scored 10 fewer points off just three Clippers turnovers.
Oklahoma City’s turnovers, coupled with its creaky defense, resulted in a 14-point deficit in the first quarter and an alarming 65-41 margin with 2:59 remaining in the first half.
The Thunder trimmed it to 17 at the half, but the Clippers promptly regained a commanding 23-point cushion when Redick made a layup off an assist from Paul with 8:23 left to play.
Fans uncharacteristically began filing out of The Peake after the third quarter, when a 104-78 Clippers lead looked, and ultimately proved to be, insurmountable.
“We will get better,” Brooks said. “That’s not who we are.”