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Los Angeles Clippers vs Oklahoma City Thunder: 2010-2011 Game 78 Preview; Leaving Bitter Waters

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Records: The Los Angeles Clippers (31-47) vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder (51-26)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM

Enemy Blog(s): Clips Nation, ClipperBlog

Previous Meeting(s): Nov. 3rd, Feb. 22nd, April 2 (Clippers lead regular season series 2-1)

Perhaps the greatest testament to a resurgent NBA compared to years past is the fact that tonight's game could be competitive. The NBA has had a long-standing issue with a number of teams tanking at the end of a season in order to secure high draft picks in the NBA lottery. Teams that play to lose do in fact lose and it is both a short term and long term poison. The Clippers have found themselves in that role in the past, and it is good to see them not embracing the loser's role this time out. Rather, they are playing the role of spoiler, and in their past two games out have spoiled both the Thunder's and Grizzlies' nights.

How can the Thunder avoid another disappointing performance?

The pattern we saw against the Clippers and Trail Blazers featured a fast offensive start, good balance on both sides of the ball, and then complacency for two quarters. When the Thunder finally found themselves trailing, they acted as if they were down 10 instead of four and pressed too hard. Russell Westbrook played out of control, Kevin Durant took too many perimeter shots and not enough free throws, and their opponents did just enough to overcome the Thunder defense to pull out the wins.

The solution to games against teams like the Clippers is something we have reiterated several times on this site. In the NBA, any team can beat another team for one quarter. It is when that lesser team is up against four quarters of superiority that the disparity materializes. What the Thunder did against the Clippers is essentially make the contest a one quarter game by only being up three points at the start of the 4th quarter.

Defensively, the Thunder were mostly where they needed to be against the Clippers on Saturday. It was primarily due to a multitude of free throw attempts at the end that the Clippers were able to push their final score as high as it was. No, the problem was not the defense. Rather, it was an offensive system that looked completely broken. To wit:

  • Russell Westbrook shot 1-12, and Kevin Durant shot 10-24 for a combined 32 points, which is about 18 points below their collective season averages.
  • The team committed 16 turnovers, and half of those were made by the two point guards, Westbrook and Eric Maynor.
  • Both Westbrook and Serge Ibaka fouled out, a rarity for Thunder players and a sign of overzealous defense. What it also meant was that two very good scorers were not on the court as much as they needed to be.
  • The Clippers' two best rebounders (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) outrebounded the Thunder's two best (Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins) by a count of 26-12, including 7-5 on the offensive boards.
On February 22nd, the Thunder beat the Clippers by 23, and the Clippers' stats were not substantially different from Saturday's offering. What was different was that the Thunder were coming out of the All-Star break ready to attack the second half of the season and played 48 minutes of great offensive basketball. The Clippers will not go quietly because they have played with a toughness and resolve this year that they have had missing for most of the franchise's history. However, the problem of offense is a problem that the Thunder can solve with better focus, shot selection, and patience. Dallas and a three seed is still within striking distance, and the Nuggets are waiting for a rematch. Let us hope the Thunder don't waste any more opportunities.

Prediction: Thunder 106, Clippers 92.