The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road, 118-110. On the second night of a back-to-back, OKC lacked the sharpness and precision needed in a muddy game riddled with fouls and little flow on either end. What ultimately doomed the Thunder was an inability to slow down Lou Williams in the 4th, as he scored 17 of the team’s 30 points to close out OKC.
Russell Westbrook finished with 32 on the night on 12-23 shooting, but struggled from 3-point range, hitting only 2-9, as the team struggled overall from long range (11-44). More importantly, both he and Paul George played most of the 2nd half in foul trouble, and each man was disqualified off an offensive foul in the 4th quarter as OKC had fought back into contention. George fouled out with OKC trailing by one, 100-99, and then Westbrook fouled out with under a minute remaining on a drive that could have potentially cut the lead to one.
The fatigue was clearly a factor as the 4th wound down, as OKC shot only 10-27 in the quarter and 4-12 from 3-point range. And at one point, after they had finally pulled to within a possession, missed 5 straight open jumpers in the lane that could have helped take control as the Clippers were struggling to make shots.
Despite all of these struggles, the Thunder still remained competitive, but in consideration of the balance of the entire game, it’s difficult to overlook the fouling situation. I am rarely one to make much of an imbalance of fouls called, but if you’re to do it, this is the kind of game to do so. In total, the Clips shot 46 free throws to the Thunder’s 26, and that number looks even more galling when you realize that the 2nd half advantage at the charity stripe was 28-3 in LA’s favor, and Williams and Danilo Gallinari took 15 each on the night.
To be sure, OKC did itself no favors by relying far too often on the 3-point shot. The number taken — 44 — is nearly too much when they’re going in, but when a team struggled from range as they did, it is inexcusable. Furthermore, LA does not possess great rim protection, and Westbrook in particular had little trouble getting into the lane.
That said, for three straight quarters, the Clippers were able to work into the bonus after within 3 minutes of each period. Not only did that give them better scoring opportunities at the line for the majority of each quarter, and not only did it help ultimately take George and Westbrook out of the game with fouls, but it impacted the way OKC played defense. Many of the early fouls were off-ball, where the Thunder were simply trying to fight through screens. But with the pattern established on that end of play, OKC had to soften its defense on the perimeter, which in part helped Williams create what little space he needed to get going.
On the other end, it was startling to see what the Clippers — and particularly Patrick Beverley — were able to get away with defensively. To be sure, Bev has a defensive reputation, and that reputation often earns him the benefit of the doubt. But given George’s offensive aptitude and the number of ways he was bounced around the court with no fouls called in his favor (George would only shoot 4 FTs on the night), not only was PG unable to play effective defense, but he couldn’t do anything on offense, either.
The fact that OKC even had a chance to win it is something in and of itself. But that said, sometimes games go against you, but you don’t get do-overs. And for much of the night, even though the effort was there, the output wasn’t. Dennis Schroder in particular was schrecklich. His 5-20 shooting, 2-11 from three only tell part of the story. Billy Donovan has to do something about this — because right now Schroder isn’t doing anything well — even if it means giving Ray Felton 10 minutes of run just to chill out Dennis a bit.
OKC should have been the better team tonight. Unfortunately they didn’t earn it, and with the fouls going against them, couldn’t close out a winnable game.