Game 3 Preview: Mystery surrounds the Thunder's encounter with the Clippers

Flop City - William Bennett Berry

Will J.J. Redick continue his reign of terror? Can the Clippers stay out of foul trouble? Will Derek Fisher play?

2014 NBA Playoffs, Round 2
Thunder_medium_medium
@
Clippers_medium
59-23
5-4

59-23
5-4
May 3rd, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KFWB News Talk 980
Injury Report: Derek Fisher (Questionable)
Previous Matchups: Game 1 (L 105-122), Game 2 (W 112-101)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Chris Paul
Thabo Sefolosha SG J.J. Redick
Kevin Durant SF Matt Barnes
Serge Ibaka PF Blake Griffin
Kendrick Perkins C DeAndre Jordan

There's a lot of things to feel good about if you're a Thunder fan. KD has his MVP, the team is finally a bit more motivated, and Russell Westbrook's shot is fully on-target.

But everything up to this point has felt fairly scripted. I didn't really expect the Clippers to come out and win Game 1, but given how the Clippers didn't need to adjust styles between series, it made sense. The Thunder won Game 2 on the back of an extremely emotional crowd and KD's MVP speech, and the whole thing seemed pre-ordained. KD and Russ almost got triple-doubles on the same night, and Blake Griffin shot under 40%.

Game 3, though, feels like a bit more of a quagmire. Obviously, LA is expected to win at least one game at home, and the Thunder are expected to win at least one game in LA if they expect to stay in this series. But the momentum doesn't feel like it's going in any particular direction right now. Sure, the Thunder have the confidence that a win brings them, but the Clippers have a couple of things going in their direction.

First of all, Derek Fisher's health is up in the air after he injured his shoulder in Game 2. Should he not be able to go, we'd likely see more minutes from Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler, which could be trouble on a bad night. There's also the remote possibility that we see Lamb or Jones, but I'm not betting any money on it.

The other thing that could swing the momentum in LA's favor is Jamal Crawford's 6th man of the year award. Sure, it pales in comparison to the MVP, but it definitely gives the fans and players reason to be excited before the game.

Anyway, the big thing that I took away from Game 2 is this: There's no book on how you should match up with this team. The cool thing about the Clippers is that they're just as inconsistent as we are. Sometimes they won't exploit matchups properly, and sometimes their own experiments fire back on them. I tend to think that the Thunder are generally stronger when they go big, but the Clippers have registered runs against big lineups (Thanks J.J.), and I have a huge bias against Caron Butler for some reason. Still, the Thunder do look pretty good when Serge Ibaka matches up with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul isn't hitting jumpers.

Nevertheless, I feel like the Clipper bench is what can make the difference for them in this series and tonight. Jamal Crawford is the type of player who will heat up on any given night and go for 30. And on a night where Griffin or Paul might be struggling, that 30 against a mostly Reggie-driven OKC lineup can bring the Clippers right back into the game.

It will be interesting to see whether Thabo starts off the game matched up with J.J. Redick again. Thabo did a magnificent job of recovering his honor, grabbing two critical steals in the fourth and nailing a few second-half jumpers. But what occurred in the first half was a complete thwacking, with Thabo and other defenders struggling to get around DeAndre Jordan's off-ball screens. I doubt Redick repeats the performance, but I'm okay with him going off again as long as this team protects the rim.

Game 3 figures to be as foul-heavy as the first two, and fouls will definitely be something to keep an eye on. In the early fourth quarter of Game 2, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan were stuck with 5 fouls. Had the game gone down to the wire, I could have seen that situation killing the Clippers. OKC will rack up a lot of fouls as well, and the Clips have drawn our bigs into foul trouble before. But with OKC's big man rotation being 4 deep and LA's tendency to go small, I don't see it being a huge issue. Furthermore, OKC's foul numbers have been inflated by Coach Brooks "Hack-a-Jordan" strategy, which has seen mixed success.

Anyway, I think that this game has the potential to go down to the wire. With both teams' tendency to go on such huge runs, it's more unlikely for games to have close finishes. But I don't see any particular strategy or momentum shift that would indicate an advantage for either team tonight. Rather, I'll just predict that as long as Ibaka stays out of foul trouble, the Clippers don't shoot ridiculously well, and the refs don't hate us, we should be able to escape with a victory. Those are a lot of "ifs", but this is the playoffs, after all.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Los Angeles Clippers 108.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment!

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