The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Clippers at home, 128-110. A funny thing happened on OKC’s way to losing their 5th game of the season — they decided in the locker room that they are a better team than they have shown for much of this season so far.
OKC proceeded to give a Bill the Butcher level beating to the Clippers in the 3rd that seemingly came out of nowhere. Russell Westbrook led the charge with 32 points on 13-25 shooting to go along with 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Following suit, Paul George got cooking with 32 of his own to go along with 12 boards and 4 assists, and scored 11 points in the pivotal quarter. All told, OKC outplayed LA in the 3rd by a score of 39-10, completely flipping a 13 point halftime deficit into a 16 point lead that held firm the rest of the way.
What is most shocking about the turnabout of events is how it both ran contrary to everything we thought we knew about this team so far this season, but was also the first glimpse into the window of what we thought OKC might actually be capable of. It isn’t even that they were playing poorly in the first half. Rather, they were just playing the same way they always do, while the Clips were playing an actual style of basketball that manifested their best assets. I was fully prepared to write a recap conceding LA looks like they’re in the top half of playoff teams this year — they make a ton of sense, have talent with balance, and a sneaky-good perimeter defense.
And then our goofy team went and flipped everything on its head. Again.
- We’ll have more on this, but OKC’s final 3rd quarter numbers — 39 points on 70% shooting, 5-8 from 3-point range, 7 assists. Really solid, but also fleeting. What was most impressive was how they coupled it with great defense, holding LA to 25% shooting, zero threes, 8 turnovers, and zero free throw attempts.
- I’m sure many of our NZ friends thought this as well, but Steven Adams was practically nonexistent in the 1st half, barely touching the ball at all. And while Adams is not a 5-tool offensive player like Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, he’s not bad, either. And when you run offense through him, he makes teams pay, and Westbrook remembered that. Adams finished with 18-10 with 2 assists and his screening and finishing plays were a catalyst for OKC, particularly in holding off the Clippers in the 4th.
- Jerami Grant finally had a functionally useful game. While he was still ineffective in the 1st half, come the 2nd he found a groove. Grant finished with 12-5, knocked down a three, and finished around the rim well. For him, it’s all about body control. If he’s flailing himself everywhere he quickly turns into a liability. But with better economy of motion and — hey, some PnR action would be nice — simplified focus, he uncomplicates the game.
- Grant’s bench counterpart Patrick Patterson also had a solid game, finishing with 8 points in 20 minutes on 3-3 shooting. All together, the PF spot provided 20 points and 7 rebounds. Nothing to write home about, but closer to an overall positive impact.
- OKC finally showed restraint around its sub-mediocre 3-point shooting. The Thunder only took 17 of them on the night, making 9. More importantly, aside from a few contested attempts from PG, the team really hunted for good shots from the right players.
- Dennis Schroder did a nice job running the 2nd unit, particularly in the 1st half where the bench mob helped keep the game close. For Schroder, it’s all about finishing plays at the rim. I would like to see him get back to more pick and roll offense, however.
- Alex Abrines with a solid game, even if he only got one 3-point shot on the night. Defensively though, he continues to grow. While Alex is never going to be the most fleet of foot, and he’s going to get beat off the dribble by quicker guards, you can see his IQ growing, simply being in the right place at the right time. And because of it, he gathered 4 steals and had a righteous block at the rim on 6th Man of the Year Lou Williams.
- While the box score won’t bear it out, Terrance Ferguson looked more engaged tonight, despite only taking a single shot (a ridiculous finger-roll layup). He pursued Williams hard during his run, kept his head in the game, and set up Westbrook for a signature moment. That said, he’s still so slight that he easily gets bounced around off of screens and can’t fight through them, and it just is what it is.