It was a national TV showdown between two of the West's best, the 8-3 Oklahoma City Thunder and the 8-5 Los Angeles Clippers. We probably expected something more like last week's Thunder-Warriors matchup, but nope. Tonight's game was significantly calmer and marginally less exciting. In workmanlike fashion, the Thunder ground out a win over the high-flying Clippers, 105-91. The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who scored 28 points on 10-19 shooting. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin had 27 on 12-23 shooting.
Though gritty, it was a solid win. A more exciting game may have been what people expected coming in, but instead we got a relatively tame matchup. The Thunder got out to a strong start on both ends and never looked back. Not including J.J. Redick's made free throw off of a defensive three seconds technical foul by Kendrick Perkins, the Clippers didn't score a point until a Redick jumper at 8:02 remaining. By then, the Thunder had already scored 13 points. They never looked back, going wire-to-wire with the lead.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The defensive intensity was strong for many parts of the game, and even when the Clippers were able to get something going on offense, the Thunder were always able to hold the fort down with their own offense. There weren't many highlights unless you're into footwork for well-earned baskets around the paint (/high fives self), but it was a wonderful job by the Thunder to stay on top. The Clippers aren't a pushover by any means, so you really have to credit the Thunder if they forced Doc Rivers' crew into looking like one at any point tonight.
Though it wasn't flashy, the Thunder shot 51.9% themselves. The only players to shoot sub-50% were Russell Westbrook (5-13), Thabo Sefolosha (2-6) and Steven Adams (2-5). Durant did his thing, and Serge Ibaka proved his slow start was a thing of the past with 17 points on 8-10 shooting. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb were a nice boost off of the bench, with Jackson getting to the rim well and Lamb looking comfortable in midrange as they combined for 20 points.
Brooks really seems to have developed a level of trust in his young guys on the second unit. After the game, Brooks said:
"Our second unit did a great job of coming in and I think they increased the lead by five or six points. I have confidence in our guys, no matter who we throw out there. I thought Reggie [Jackson] did a good job of getting the group together. Fish and Steven [Adams] and Jeremy [Lamb] did a good job of sticking with our defensive game-plan."
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
How great was Oklahoma City's defense? The Clippers are one of the league's most dangerous offensive teams, and the Thunder were able to limit them to 41.9% shooting from the field and 28.6% from three. Even though Griffin scored 27 points, Serge Ibaka did a great job of making things difficult on Griffin with his length for most of the game (Ibaka had 3 blocks and I swear they were all on Blake in the post). Even in that third quarter where Blake scored 15 points on 10 shots, Ibaka forced Blake to really use every bit of his back-to-basket skill, footwork and shot-making skill. Meanwhile, Steven Adams was consistently in the right place and picked up 3 blocks of his own in just 23:41. (PT-split update: Perkins played just 19:53)
Out on the perimeter, our guards did a solid job of sticking with Chris Paul and crew. The Thunder seemed to be a bit eager in helping off of shooters and leaving them open, but fortunately J.J. Redick was off and Jared Dudley is still struggling mightily this season. Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford were lured into taking more pull-up twos from deep midrange than they probably should have, though Crawford still knocked down those shots because that's what Jamal Crawford does. Still, that was exactly the game plan that Scott Brooks wanted to employ.
"We like guys taking long twos. That’s what we talk about every night. If we can force guys to take long two’s, we feel that’s to our advantage."
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Related to defense, check this stat out: the Clippers took 92 field goal attempts compared to the Thunder taking 79, but the Thunder still made more field goals than the Clippers with a 41 to 38 advantage. When the other team, which is a really good offensive team, is taking so many more shots from the floor, it says a lot about your performance when you can still make more shots. The percentage comparison, if you want it, is 51.9% to 41.3%.
Now, the Clippers did make more threes than the Thunder. In fact, the Clippers doubled the amount of threes the Thunder made as they went 8-28 compared to the Thunder's 4-19. But, check out those ratios. Both teams shot sub-30% marks, a very inefficient percentage. Even if the Clippers took and made more threes, at that ratio they probably would have been better off trying to get to the rim. Meanwhile, the Thunder took their lead in per-possession points and built upon it by using the unaccounted-for possessions to claim the free throw battle. They went 19-29 from the line (which is actually a poor percentage, but still more makes than the Clippers attempted at 7-15).
Because of the Thunder's ability to make better use of their offensive possessions, they were able to win the game. The fact they turned the ball over 17 times (compared to the Clippers' 10 turnovers) was made a non-factor in the result because they were able to score so well. When this offense is executing well like they did tonight, this is the way they can perform. They'll put on an efficient performance from the field, with extra points tacked on by prolific numbers from the charity stripe (typically from Durant and Westbrook, though it was more of a team effort tonight). Few offenses are as dangerous as this one can be.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
A wire-to-wire win on national television is always a good thing, and this one had a "just keep on grinding" feel to it. The Thunder came in, did their business, and left. They've won three in a row now, and are undefeated at home with a 5-0 record. The team has settled into a groove with Westbrook back, and the wins should continue to come. It's twice as nice to take this win from a team that could be one of the hard-hitters in the playoffs. It's a long season, but we were able to take this game from them comfortably.
Also, another Thunder fan hit a halfcourt shot for $20,000 tonight. For those keeping track at home, that's two straight makes for Thunder fans and $40,000 total given out by MidFirst Bank to the winners this week. Tonight it was Brad Brucker, who also got the pleasure of a quick exchange with a courtside Jay Z after earning his twenty grand.
|Final - 11.21.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||22||21||29||19||91|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||28||23||30||24||105|
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant (28 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 10-19 field goal shooting, 2-5 three-point shooting, 6-9 free throw shooting)
Thunder Down Under: Jeremy Lamb (11 points, 5-10 field goal shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 19:43 minutes)
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook (12 points, 5-13 field goal shooting, 0-6 three-point shooting, 2-3 free throw shooting, 3 fouls, 3 turnovers)
Thunder Plunderer: Blake Griffin (27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 12-23 field goal shooting)
Next game: vs. Utah Jazz @ Chesapeake Energy Arena (Sunday, November 24 @ 6:00 PM CMT)