The Oklahoma City Thunder were fully stocked tonight, yet they were barely able to overcome the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers, 119-117. Four of the Clipper starters were sitting, due to the Clippers having very little chance of moving position at this point. But the Clippers were able to mount a serious run, netting 32 points from Jamal Crawford and a career high 32 points from Austin Rivers. Rivers was 7 of 9 from three, and Crawford was 5 of 8 from three. Part of this was poor defensive effort on the Thunder's part, part of it was just a really remarkable shooting night. When you give a bench player a lot of responsibility for one night, they could play well above their normal level.
On the Thunder's side of the ball, it wasn't too hard to score. Both Westbrook and Durant shot between 40-50%, with 7+ trips to the line each. Durant had 5 turnovers and 5 assists, while Westbrook had 11 assists and 5 turnovers. It's clear that Westbrook and Durant were the conduits of OKC's offense. But at times Westbrook or Durant would get trapped on the perimeter, or bite off more than they could chew on a drive. The Clippers defense was pretty centered on OKC's superstars though, because role players had really efficient nights. Ibaka was 7 of 12 from the floor on mostly open shots. Kanter was 5 of 7, having no trouble scoring on Jeff Ayres. Even a trio of the Thunder's wings had somewhat meaningful contributions. Roberson was 2 of 4, Singler was 3 of 6, and Waiters was 3 of 6. I know this is just listing stats, but the Thunder were really efficient offensively. OKC even dominated the offensive boards, 17 to 5.
The reason the Clippers were able to stay in this game was defensive effort, plain and simple. Sure, Austin Rivers doesn't have career highs in total points and three pointers made every single night. But the Thunder made little to no effort to account for Rivers or Crawford in their gameplan, and the threes kept falling. Meanwhile, poor transition defense led to a lot of baskets for Wes Johnson (14 points). Whenever Kanter was on the floor, the lane was wide open for whomever was driving.
How did the Thunder win this game?
It really came down to the Thunder having superior personnel to deal with late game situations. And a little bit of luck. Here's the lucky part. With 2:25 to go, Westbrook hit a deep three to tie the game. Wes Johnson was all up in Russ' grill, but it didn't matter.
That put the Thunder back in a position to win the game. But Austin Rivers immediately responded, using a screen to erase Westbrook and hit a difficult floater. Clippers up 2, 2:05 to go.
Donovan calls timeout. The resulting play is an elevator screen for a KD three, but KD hesitates and tries to draw the foul with his shot. No whistle, and the shot is short. On the other end, Austin Rivers tried to cut to the rim while Steven Adams was guarding out high. But Adams saw Rivers cutting, and moved to intercept the pass. Westbrook pulled up around an Adams screen for his traditional mid-range cotton shot. Swish, game tied with 118 to go.
Crawford gets the ball at the other end, matched up with Roberson. Roberson stops Crawford at the rim. The Thunder set up KD for a three around a screen, but no dice. Wes Johnson rebounded the ball, but Westbrook immediately poked it away and called timeout.
The game was tied with 37 seconds to go. Westbrook got the ball, and got matched up with Mbah a Moute. Westbrook went to the fadeaway, but it was short. Luckily, Steven Adams was there to tip the ball in. Thunder up 2, timeout Clippers, 26 seconds to go.
The Clippers looked to Crawford on offense, but KD met him around a screen. The ball popped loose, and Prigioni recovered it. Facing a low shot clock, Austin Rivers drove on Andre Roberson for an attempted layup. No good. Russell Westbrook grabbed the ensuing rebound and it was all over.
If I had to sum up that game ending sequence in one word, it'd be defense. Sure, the Thunder got a three to fall and had a miracle tip. But the offense was pretty darn uncreative, and the ball hardly moved at all. It was the work of OKC's role players, particularly Andre Roberson and Steven Adams, that won this game.
Film Room: The Bad Three Point Defense
Jamal Crawford was hitting some really difficult threes. Check out this pull up three in transition, when the Clippers were down 9 early. On the Thunder, only KD hits these types of shots. Also note the lack of transition defense effort and organization.
Here's another insanely difficult pull up three in transition, this time with KD in his grill. This three put the Clippers up by three close to the half.
Austin Rivers had a career night from three. You can't blame the Thunder for leaving Rivers open early on, as he's a pretty poor shooter. According to LastChance, Rivers shoots 24% on open threes and 36% on wide open threes. So the fact that Rivers shot 7 of 9 tonight is nothing short of a miracle. Still, it did definitely start because the Thunder left Rivers open. Here's KD half-heartedly running out to contest this made Rivers three:
Enes Kanter was fooled in the pick and roll this play, unnecessarily moving to stop Pablo Prigioni. The move was unnecessary because Prigioni really isn't a scoring threat. This forced Dion to shadow Ayres in the post. Rivers was left open for three, and he made it.
But later on, Rivers was just genuinely hot. Here's a deep stepback three on KD in the third quarter:
Film Room: Thunder Appreciation
Despite the fact that the Clippers played hard, it was apparent to me that the Thunder were on another level. Just check out this KD coast to coast play. No one has a chance of stopping him.
Here's a really tricky reverse play from Westbrook to get into the lane. Help defense from Aldrich was there, but Westbrook got the And 1 anyway.
And there's no way I could end this recap without including this insane Westbrook reverse dunk, too quick for anyone to even think about blocking.
- With 6:18 to go in the third, Austin Rivers hit his sixth three, setting a career high.
- Jeff Green's points were pretty fair, he just got the best of KD sometimes. Green can pull off some advanced offensive moves, but was really bad from three (1-5 on mostly open attempts).
- "It's hard, because they're playing with nothing to lose, just playing loose and free. Austin Rivers I think made 7 threes, Jamal Crawford couldn't miss. Their guys got hot on us early in the game... and also late. But we persevered, and were able to stop, and win the game. But uh, weird game to play in."
- This was the rare game where I didn't really notice Serge Ibaka on defense. Not like he was bad or good, he just wasn't a focus of attention.
- Andre Roberson was 2 of 4 from the corners, including an airball. The duality of Roberson's good and bad three point attempts continues to amaze me.
- KD's defensive effort definitely ramped up in the second half, as did Westbrook's. But KD in particular was really talkative with his teammates and trying to get them motivated. The end of the third quarter seemed to be a big turning point in terms of overall effort.
- Anthony Morrow got 2 minutes, missed two kick out threes. That was really strange, but I wouldn't be surprised to see similar cups of coffee on the court during the playoffs.
- Randy Foye showed some decent passing vision, and re-adjusted to hit a three. Defense was definitely a step below mediocre at times, just doesn't have the hustle to keep shooters locked down.
- Kyle Singler hit a couple open shots and a layup. But Singler's three point defense wasn't anything to write home about.
- Dion Waiters was an under appreciated presence. Waiters defense wasn't superb, but he was deferent on offense and kept the ball moving. This dunk wasn't bad, either.
- Steven Adams had all of his baskets next to the rim, as usual.
- Cam Payne would have helped get the ball to Kanter, I'm sure of it. Despite Kanter's poor defense, his offense definitely deserved more looks tonight. I'm unsure of whether Payne is still injured or not.
- You can pretty much pencil us in for the 3 seed at this point.
Thunder Wonder: Steven Adams, master of late game defensive stands
Thunder Down Under: Andre Roberson, with the long arms of the law
Thunder Blunder: Randy Foye, didn't bring enough to the table to warrant more minutes than Singler and Waiters
Thunder Plunderer: Austin Rivers, I was mostly impressed by the floaters.
Next Game: At the Houston Rockets, Sunday, April 3rd, 2:30 PM Central Daylight Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!