The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Clippers on the road, 100-99. The Thunder, trailing most of the game, were finally able to catch the Clippers late in the 4th quarter to give themselves a chance to win in the end. The Thunder's defense and timely shooting gave OKC a big road win against a winning team.
Russell Westbrook's 3-point basket with 48 seconds to go gave the Thunder a one point lead, only to see it immediately disappear on the other end following a Blake Griffin dunk in traffic. However, Westbrook played the two-for-one scenario particularly well coming out of a time out by hitting a tough 11 footer, setting the stage for the Thunder's defense to get the job done. The defense rose to the challenge, with Andre Roberson and Russell Westbrook collapsing on J.J. Redick in the lane, leading to a steal and a foul.
The Clips were not yet in the bonus, so all OKC had to do with 14 seconds remaining was to inbound the ball and look for free throws. Unfortunately, Dion Waiters and Westbrook could not connect on the inbounds play, and a Chris Paul steal and layup gave the Clippers a shocking 1 point lead with 10 seconds remaining.
The Thunder responded by turning to their MVP. Kevin Durant had struggled shooting the ball for most of the night (10-24, 1-7 from three), but Durant answered the bell and drained a tough, contested 19-footer over Luc Richard Mbah a Moute with 5 seconds remaining.
With one more chance to win, the Clippers turned to Paul, but the Thunder defense responded again and refused to let Paul turn the corner. Instead, he created some separation from a switching Serge Ibaka, only to see Durant close on him and get a piece of his shot attempt. The ball fell away harmlessly from the rim, and the Thunder had a big road win over a winning team.
The Thunder were led by Westbrook, who finished with 33 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 11 4th quarter points to fuel the comeback. Durant finished with 24-9-7, including the game winner. The Clippers were led by Paul, who finished with 32 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The emotions of this game could easily have tipped in the opposite direction. What we can reflect on now is the fact that the Thunder, despite trailing for most of the game, a 32 point outburst from Paul, and poor shooting throughout, the Thunder managed to lock in when they needed to, got critical contributions from their All-Stars, and win the final quarter of play.
However, had Durant missed that tough shot, or had he not gotten a piece of Paul's jumper at the buzzer, the story would be quite different. Instead, we'd be lamenting how the Thunder got 64% of their points from 3 guys again, how they constantly rushed their offense, missed wide open shots, and lastly nearly threw the game away because they couldn't inbound the ball.
I think the moral of the story is, winning is better.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Had we been watching the Thunder defense from a month ago, the Thunder would have had no chance to win this game. The Clippers are perennially one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. Even though they are struggling thus far this season, their offense is still potent behind the work of Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Redick. Redick runs non-stop, leveraging his gravity to pull defenders all over the court to try and stop him from finding open 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the middle of the action features Paul, Griffin, and Jordan running a near-unstoppable middle pick and roll set that yields high percentage looks.
On this night however, the Thunder had a defensive plan in place to a) limit Redick's open looks; and b) limit Jordan's attacks on the rim. On these two fronts, the Thunder not only made the grade, but did it well enough to overcome their own offensive sloppiness. The reason why their defense is starting to find its identity is because Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters were willing to chase Redick all night long, rarely letting him get away long enough for open shots, and Redick finished only 6-14 on the night. Meanwhile, Steven Adams was able to match up with Jordan's athleticism at the rim and not give way to Jordan's alley-oops and offensive put-backs. Indeed, Jordan only finished with 8 points and was held to a mere 3 shot attempts on the night.
On top of that, the Thunder defensive strategy opted to yield one particular shot - the Griffin 18 footer. OKC gave Griffin that shot all night long, and Griffin could not make them pay, by hitting only 3-12 shots from above the free throw line.
The defensive effort was both strategic and match-up driven. And ultimately, it was OKC's ability to shut down the Clipper offense twice in the final 14 seconds that helped deliver the win.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for leading 4th quarter comeback win
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, for blocking Chris Paul's game-winning shot attempt
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, for nearly throwing away the game in the final 10 seconds
Thunder Plunderer: Chris Paul, 32 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds
Next game: @ Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 9:30PM CDT