What a game. Neither team ever led by double digits, and neither team made a huge run. But the Thunder made more plays, pulled off a 118-112 victory and the grades reflect it.
Star power: A. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were superb. Westbrook couldn’t make baskets early, but he was passing well. Then he found his shot and scored nine points the final 90 seconds of the first half. Westbrook finished with 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. He was in triple double territory most of the second half but didn’t get a fourth-quarter rebound. Meanwhile, Durant was as smooth as he’s ever been. He scored 15 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) in the first quarter to help stave off a shaky start. He scored eight points (4-of-6 shooting) to give the Thunder a big third-quarter boost. Then Durant opened the fourth quarter with a couple of circus shots. Durant finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Starters: C. Scotty Brooks was limited in his use of the starting five, which got in quick foul trouble. Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha each had two fouls in the first 4:04 of the game. When Brooks went back to his starters late second quarter, the unit lasted just 33 seconds, because Ibaka got foul No. 3. But the starters played the first 7:04 of the third quarter and outscored LA 15-9 to give the Thunder a 76-72 lead.
Game experience: C. From the public-address announcer calling Thabo Sefolosha “THAY-bo,” to the crowd not really exploding to runs the way fans do in Memphis or San Antonio or Dallas, to handing out red T-shirts on the concourse instead of having them waiting at every seat, the Clippers’ operation was substandard to the normal playoff atmosphere. Cut the Clippers some slack. Donald Sterling’s been banished just 10 days.
Bench: A. Finally, the Thunder reserves asserted themselves. Caron Butler scored 14 points and made three of five 3-pointers. Three times in the fourth quarter Butler made go-ahead 3-pointers. Reggie Jackson was saddled by foul trouble but was superb during his 31 minutes, constantly driving the lane and finishing at the rim. Jackson finished with 14 points. Steven Adams had nine rebounds. And the Thunder bench, with Durant on the court, keyed a surge to start the second quarter that gave OKC the lead. The Thunder bench outscored the Clipper bench 34-28. Jamal Crawford score 20 points for LA but made just six of 20 shots.
End of quarters: C. The Clippers ended the third quarter with six points in the final 30.2 seconds, all from the foul line. Officials called a foul on Reggie Jackson, giving Chris Paul three free shots. Jackson argued and was given a technical. Jamal Crawford made the technical, then Paul made two of the three shots. Then just before the buzzer, Kevin Durant was called for a foul on Crawford’s desperation 35-footer. He made all three foul shots to give the Clippers a 90-86 lead. That wasn’t the only discouraging finish to a period. The Clippers outscored OKC 8-4 in the final 75 seconds of the first quarter, with Danny Granger and Crawford sinking 3-pointers. The second quarter finish was no better. The Clippers outscored the Thunder 8-4 in the final minute, using 3-pointers by Paul and Matt Barnes. Of course, the Thunder dominated the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, so that’s no small thing.
Celebrity watch: B. Billy Crystal was courtside, like usual at Clipper games. And so was Rhianna. Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi attended, as did Ultimate Fighter Travis Browne. Barry Switzer flew out to give the Thunder high-profile support.
Defending Lob City: C. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan dominated the first quarter. Griffin had 14 points, constantly drawing fouls. Jordan had five rebounds, three of them offensive. In the second quarter, the Clippers got their lob game going, with Jordan having three dunks and Griffin one. The Thunder did a better job in the second half, though it helped that both Jordan and Griffin missed dunks in the third quarter. Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams weren’t as effective as earlier in the series, though Ibaka played well despite the foul trouble.
Foul shooting: B. The Thunder was terrific from the line, making 21 of its first 22. Then in the final 23 seconds, Reggie Jackson missed two straight and Russell Westbrook one. The Thunder survived it fine, but in a slightly tighter game, that can be deadly.