Up 2-1 in the series, the Oklahoma City Thunder had an opportunity to get the Los Angeles Clippers on the ropes in Game 4. Though they won Game 3 in Staples Center, they couldn't come through in this one as the Clippers made a heroic push late in the game to win 101-99. Kevin Durant played 45 minutes and scored 40 points to lead the Thunder, while the Clippers were led by Blake Griffin's 25 points.
It certainly didn't look the Clippers had a shot to win by the way they came out of the gate. It was a one-sided game to start, the kind of beginning that had people leaving the Clippers for dead early as the Thunder stormed through. The first quarter saw the Thunder depart with a 32-15 lead, and eight of the Clippers' first quarter points came in the final three minutes. The difference between the two teams' performance couldn't be any more contrasting – the Thunder shot 64.7% in the first quarter, while the Clippers barely scraped together a 25.0% mark.
On one end, the Clippers saw Blake Griffin shut down in the post early and hesitant overall, a sudden and complete reversal from his Game 3 form. The Thunder packed the paint against ineffective perimeter shooting from the Clippersm and allowed practically nothing in the paint. The three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka took over the other end, doing what they tend to do.
The Clippers could've been finished early, but to their credit, they stood their ground and put up a fight over a rough second quarter. Seriously, it was a fight. The Thunder played them hard physically, and it took serious grit from the Clippers to play through it. Griffin was actively pushing his way into the lane to create better shots for himself, while Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul were feisty and created some offense themselves against solid defense. The Clippers got within eight points a few times, but the Thunder had enough in them to make a small run to answer every Clippers' run. Momentum was a different matter, but the Thunder were fortunate enough to take a 11-point lead in the half.
It remained back and forth for much of the remainder of the game. The cushion that the Thunder built in the first quarter never looked so important, and it seemed to be a one man show on that end. Durant had 11 of the Thunder's 18 third-quarter points, and I thought Westbrook could've had more touches. It could've been worse had the Clippers not struggled too, as they scored just 17 points themselves. Both teams shot sub-30% in this quarter. For about the first half of the fourth quarter, this continued. The offense eventually picked up a bit for both teams, but it remained give-and-take for both teams.
With the Thunder's shaky play since the start of the second quarter, though, the writing was on the wall. The Clippers made a turning point out of three straight Paul makes (including a three) in about a minute, drawing the score to 84-78. Following a Thunder timeout with six minutes to go, the Clippers made one final comeback push. The Thunder were able to score baskets here and there, but the Clippers continually chipped away at the lead in an effort that finally culminated in a tied game with 1:35 remaining.
What happened was Darren Collison, who basically took over. He was part of a really fast and really plucky three-guard lineup that featured Paul and Crawford as well, and they ran all over the place to cause havoc. Turnovers were forced, fast breaks were had and the Thunder defense was continually broken down by the agility even in the half-court. Collison was the highlight and he scored ten points in the final four minutes and 28 seconds, including the Clippers' last four points on layups.
The Thunder didn't have enough to stay ahead, and there were a disappointing number of late-game possessions that ended in forced shots out of terribly-timed isolations. You KNOW the Scott Brooks criticism is coming. The Clippers won this one, 101-99, and have tied the series 2-2.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
It was as disappointing a defeat as there could be. The Thunder completely controlled the first quarter and remained ahead for the entire game... until the very end. Credit the Clippers for punching back, but it was disappointing to see the Thunder slowly lose ground in momentum and effort until they ceded the game as well. If there's a bright side, it's that the Clippers struggled too for long chunks of the game (HELLO FIRST QUARTER). Darren Collison isn't going to have this performance often.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
Given that it was back-and-forth for the bulk of this game and that the Thunder remained ahead during it because of the cushion they built early, it was clearly the collapse at the end that did them in. The Clippers found an energetic lineup that ran rampant on the Thunder, but there has to be concern about how overwhelmed the Thunder let themselves look down the stretch. The offense was bad, and Brooks is appropriately going to hear a lot of crap over the team's late-game execution. The whole Collison deal felt a bit fluky, but against a lineup that featured speed, the Thunder looked absolutely lifeless.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
From the second quarter to the fourth quarter, the Thunder shot 37.9% from the field. That's a far cry from their 64.7% clip in the first quarter, and their dominance in that quarter stopped all of a sudden. From the second quarter on, Durant and Jackson were the only players to shoot above 40% from the field. To be fair, Durant did a lot of heavy-lifting – he went 9-of-20 and made 12-of-15 free throws for 30 points, and Jackson tacked on 3-of-7 for 7 points. After that, though, production was barren. Some players vanished in terms of shot attempts, but others vanished in terms of shot-making. Westbrook had 16 points on 16 shots. This team trailed off so hard and so suddenly that they were fortunate their lead wasn't erased any quicker by the Clippers (credit the defense).
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
A few overeager people were Tweeting their goodbyes to the Clippers in the first quarter, but that ended quickly. While this loss is mostly crushing, I think there were things to like and most of them came from that dominant first quarter stretch. Blake Griffin was completely held under control in that quarter, and the Thunder's stars were playing at their peak level. We know Durant and Russ have that gear where they take over, and it's going to be key over the remainder of this series.
The Thunder may be reeling a bit now, but the series is only tied and the Thunder can get right back into it with a not-uncommon stretch of Durant and Westbrook dominance. We'll see how they do when they return to Oklahoma City.
- Weird performance for Russ. Great in the first quarter, saw infrequent possessions in the second and third quarters, and then was just plain bad in the fourth.
- Ibaka had two threes in the first quarter, and there's nothing better than when he's making threes. Too bad he only took two shots in the next three quarters. /headdesk (His defense was great, though! Blocked hella shots and had Griffin looking befuddled in the post early.)
- BLAKE NUTSHOT, GOAL BY IBAKA, ASSISTED BY PERKINS
- The Clippers put Paul on Durant in the fourth and denied the post aggressively to prevent KD abusing him down there. That worked out pretty well. Paul's a seriously feisty perimeter defender.
- I hope the Clippers don't use that Paul/Collison/Crawford lineup too much more, though it probably won't ever work this well. The Clippers can suffer from rough spacing at times, but going small with speedy dudes alleviates that issue somewhat. Rivers probably gives it a shot at some point in the next game.
- It took DeAndre Jordan until the third quarter to make a significant imapct, but he racked up nine rebounds (another area where the Clippers have struggled in this series) in the third. He's been bad in so many ways in this series, and it'd be huge for the Clippers if he could figure things out.
- On the other hand, Matt Barnes remained a black hole of 'non-shooter-jacked-threes' and 'can't-defend-Durant' anti-production.
- Jamal Crawford cannot guard Caron Butler in the post. Butler backed him down with incredible ease on a few possessions down there in the second, which I hope I'll never forget.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 40 PTS (12/24 FGM/A, 15/18 FTM/A), 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook - 27 PTS (10/22 FGM/A, 6/6 FTM/A), 6 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL
Thunder Blunder: Caron Butler - 6 PTS (2/7 FGM/A, 1/5 3PM/A), 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 TO in 25 MIN
Thunder Plunderer: Darren Collison - 18 PTS (7/12 FGM/A), 7 REB, 1 AST in 23 MIN; 12 fourth-quarter PTS
Next game: Game 5 on Tuesday, May 13 at 8:30 PM CDT