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Game 4 Preview: The Thunder-Clipper chess match continues

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We take a look at the importance of Matt Barnes, the Thunder's offensive style, Steven Adams' changing role, and the CP3-Westbrook matchup.

William Bennett Berry
2014 NBA Playoffs, Round 2

May 11th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
2:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Your Local American Broadcasting Company Affiliate (KOCO 5 in Oklahoma City)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KFWB News Talk 980
Injury Report: Hedo Turkoglu (Questionable)
Previous Matchups: Game 1 (L 105-122), Game 2 (W 112-101), Game 3 (W 118-112)
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

Sometimes, I have difficulty starting an article.

Usually, I start articles by looking at other Thunder-related stuff and trying to soak up as much information as possible. I review the previous game, research the matchup, try to find angles. It's really nothing special.

Last night, I was almost at a complete loss at how to start my article. So instead of writing my article, I took a look at the photoshop that WBB sent me. If you don't understand why Matt Barnes has a screaming woman's head, you're probably not alone. I barely recognized it as a reference to Mommie Dearest, a cult classic from the early 80s about the relationship between early Hollywood Actress Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter. So, naturally, I decided to watch the film instead of writing this preview.

It was an incredibly bizarre experience. Crawford is depicted as a woman hell-bent on having the perfect child, almost entirely for the publicity purposes of her own career. As the movie went on, Crawford would continually project her own perceived imperfections onto her daughter, continually blaming the child for things she couldn't possibly control.

This would be all well and good, if the film were decently made. By the main actress' own admission, the director was new to the game, and basically let all of the performers run wild. So what you got was this half-serious half-joking docu-drama mess, which is amazing to watch unfold in its entirety.

The most infamous scene in the movie comes when the girl is at child's age. After Joan loses the man she's currently dating, she basically loses the plot. While searching through her daughter's room in the middle of the night, she finds a wire hanger in an otherwise pristine and uniform closet. The hanger sends Joan into a rage, blaming her daughter for everything and continually demanding that her daughter clean up the mess that she made. It's a delightful scene, as you can imagine.

So, given that context, it makes sense that WBB would have chosen Matt Barnes as the designated subject for his photoshop. I mean, Matt Barnes is basically the Joan Crawford of the NBA. Sure, he might not be as rich or famous, but his uncanny ability to rack up technicals while not even being involved in a play should speak for itself. Like Joan combing her daughter's closet, Barnes roams the floor in search of something to get angry at, blaming his own declining career on the abilities of others.

Despite that and how little press he gets, Matt Barnes is absolutely key for the Los Angeles Clippers. He's usually the Clippers' first hope of stopping Kevin Durant in his tracks, but he's a far cray from Tony Allen. Allen was undersized, and had to use lots of physical contact ant effort to keep Durant away from the rim and constantly frustrated. Barnes is an effort player as well, but he's not nearly as reliant on physicality. Rather, he's an opportunist, looking for any chance he can to take advantage of a lack of focus or effort on the part of Durant.

And so far, that's how he's made his living. Whenever Durant isn't willing to make the extra effort to get back on D or  is getting a bit too lazy with the ball, Barnes is there. Unlike with Allen, Durant will basically win this battle every single time. But there are definite positive things that Barnes can do to off-set Durant's production, while the same couldn't necessarily be said of Allen.

But we all know that KD's performance doesn't depend solely on Matt Barnes. Sometimes he'll get generous matchups against guys like DeAndre Jordan, whom he absolutely feasted on in Game 3's fourth quarter. Other times, he'll create opportunities for himself in transition. Other times still, he works as a decoy for Ibaka or Butler, providing the attention in the post they need to get open shots. Games 2 and 3 have Durant seeing success in all of those areas, and the only real way I see him struggling again is if Ibaka's shot goes away.

The primary method of operation for KD is the pick and roll. He and Westbrook used it to great effect in Game 3. They didn't even have to work to get themselves isolated on the weak side, as they have in the past. Rather, the offense worked best when they came up the court quickly. The faster pace of Game 1 definitely played to the Thunder's favor.

The only real problem with the Thunder's pick and roll-heavy offense is how badly the bench performs with it. They were a complete disaster in Game 2 and, consequently, saw much less time in Game 3. Durant has pulled almost an entire 48 minute shift in the past two games, and could see fatigue settle in as the series wears on. Still, Brooks might be hesitant about sitting KD, simply because the Spurs are well on their way to sweeping the Blazers on the other side of the bracket. If the Thunder could earn their own break by taking care of the Clippers in 5 games (knock on wood), it would probably do a ton for their preparedness in the conference finals.

Another important shift in this series relates to Steven Adams and Nick Collison. They might look extremely similar while wearing Thunder blue, but Adams' star is the one that's rising. He's registered more minutes than Collison in the past three games, with sizeable results. He's an excellent force to have on the offensive glass, matches up well at center, and sets some really solid picks. It's hard to argue that he's more consistent than Collison at this point in his career, as he has gotten played by Blake Griffin a few times. But it could be argued that he's better suited to play with a small lineup, because he can cover more ground in the paint. It could also be argued that the intangible toughness he gives the team on the floor benefits the Thunder more than Collison's ho-hum consistency. In any case, he figures to assume the same role tonight.

Before I go, I'd like to talk about the matchup between Westbrook and Chris Paul. Paul basically torched Westbrook during all of Game 1 and the first part of Game 2, as Westbrook kept fighting under screens and Paul kept nailing threes. In the second half of Game 2, Russ stopped playing the percentages, and fighting over the screens forced Paul into some tough layups.

In Game 3, Westbrook continued his strategy of chasing Paul over screens. He didn't seem too concerned about getting around them. Rather, he was usually content to let the big man contain, while he attempted a steal or chased Paul off the three-point line. This had the effect of putting Chris Paul into his zone, and he had a mammoth of a first half. The attention from the big men allowed him to nail a few tough floaters and find his friends near the rim. The second half saw Brooks switch Reggie Jackson onto Paul, which had no real effect. Paul isolated him a few times for easy points.

No real progress came until the fourth, when Westbrook was finally re-matched onto Paul. CP3 got way too aggressive from three, and the Thunder were able to emerge victorious. However, his effectiveness was worrying, especially on a night where Blake Griffin was basically able to re-discover himself on the pick and roll. Going into Game 4, I'd hope that the Thunder will continue to try different things to keep both players under wraps. Paul's shooting will cool off eventually, and as long as Ibaka can avoid foul trouble, he can handle Griffin. It's just a matter of things falling into place, and the coaching staff doing what they can to adjust and keep things fresh.

Anyway, tonight's game should be another barnburner. The Clippers have too much talent to stop scoring, and they have absolutely no way of stopping us from getting to the rim. The key lies in selectively containing their stars, and I believe the Thunder can accomplish that over the next two games. But the Clippers are a fearsome animal, and they have just as good of a chance of winning tonight as we do.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Los Angeles Clippers 112 (OT).

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