The Thunder take on the Clippers tonight in their final match-up of the regular season. The first three games have been all over the map, so odds are good that we will be treated to a final worthy entry for the regular season.
Steve Perrin at Clips Nation is with us one last time (at least for the regular season) to give us his assessment on where he thinks things stand with our respective teams and what we're in for over the course of the next few weeks.
To read my responses to today's question, GO HERE.
Our previous exchanges:
Today's question is simple:
What did we learn through the first three games, what do we expect tonight, and what does it tell us about the month of May?
1) What did we learn through 3 games?
I'm not sure we learned a lot in the first two games. It's always dangerous to generalize from a small sample size, and speaking as a close observer of the Clippers, they will rarely play as well as they did in game 1, nor as poorly as they did in game 2. So the results of those two games (a Clipper win and a Clipper loss respectively) are not surprising. But the three point shooting in that first game (13-25) can best be described as flukey, while the Clippers were in their worst slump of the season in that second game and played like it.
In the third game, both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled from the field, so I'm not sure we can say we learned much from that one either. After all, those guys won't combine to shoot under 30% very many times.
But we know this much -- the Clippers aren't intimidated by the Thunder, despite the obvious talent on that team. They have confidence against the Thunder, and they have Chris Paul, and that puts them in a good place. Westbrook can't really defend Paul -- CP3 uses his veteran savvy and incredible handle to put Westbrook on his hip, neutralizing RW's athleticism as he picks apart the rest of the defense. The Thunder went with Thabo Sefolosha on Paul in crunch time in the last game, but that didn't keep Paul from hitting the game winner.
Of course, on the other side, it's not as if the Clippers have anyone to defend Kevin Durant. Nick Young spent most of the fourth quarter on him five days ago and had 'stopper' like results -- Durant made just 2 of 9 fourth quarter field goals. But let's not kid ourselves -- Young may indeed be the Clippers best option for extended minutes defending KD (Durant's way too quick for Caron Butler), but that 2 for 9 quarter was much more about KD missing than about Nick Young making him miss. So the bottom line is that OKC will struggle to contain Paul on one end, while the Clippers struggle to contain Durant on the other. In a game where both of them are wreaking havoc, it may come down to which team hits their threes.
2) What do we expect tonight?
I expect a really, really good game. Both of these teams are in tight playoff races that matter. The Thunder are still young, and they know that home court advantage will make a difference for as long as they can have it. They sure don't want to find themselves in a Western Conference Final against the veteran Spurs playing game seven in San Antonio if they can help it. Meanwhile the Clippers have a two game lead over the Grizzlies, but LA has five of six against playoff teams, while Memphis has five of six against sub-.500 teams. If the Clippers don't hold Memphis off, the Grizzlies will get home court advantage in the first round of their series against each other (a matchup pretty close to set in stone at this point). The Clippers still hold some hope of catching the Lakers for third as well, and absolutely every win counts. With four of their final five games on the road, they can ill afford to lose their penultimate home game.
So both teams are motivated, both teams are rested, both teams are good -- let's have a good game. I don't expect Durant and Westbrook to struggle like they did last week. Certainly not Durant at any rate, though Russell has had some rough games in LA against the Clippers. If the Clippers are hitting their threes, I think they can win. If not, I don't think they'll have enough, even with Chris Paul dominating.
3) What does it tell us about the month of May?
As I mentioned above, the Clippers are not intimidated by the Thunder. They played them tough in splitting their games last season, and they're up 2-1 on them so far this year with a road win under their belts. Durant has yet to beat Griffin in L.A. If the Clippers can win tonight (still a big if) they'll become the only team to beat the Thunder three times this season -- and they would take a ton of confidence into a potential second round matchup with Oklahoma City.
But let's not kid ourselves. The Thunder are among the most talented teams in the league, and talent usually prevails. This team is loaded, from Durant to Westbrook to Harden to Ibaka on down the line. I think a playoff series between these two teams would be incredibly entertaining -- we're talking about the top rated offense in the league and the third rated offense in the league, after all. Fingers crossed that it happens.
Thanks again to Steve for his thoughtful responses. Be sure to check out Clips Nation and tune in tonight to watch the Thunder and Clippers duke it out.