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Slow start dooms Thunder in 120-106 loss to Clippers

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Oklahoma City could not withstand a cold shooting effort early, falls to championship contending Clips led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The first half of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 120-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was much like the alternate court and uniform scheme L.A. donned Friday night.

Black and white.

OKC’s chippy nature would not let things get out of hand however, as the team eventually cut a 27-point first-half deficit to 11 late in the fourth quarter. The surging Clippers (12-4), winners of six straight, for the most part showed why they are contenders while the developing Thunder displayed their room for growth.

It could have been over after the first 20 minutes; the Clippers were cooking OKC (6-8). Los Angeles shot a robust 64-percent in the first quarter, leading to a hot start that eventually spurred a 27-point lead early in the second.

The Clips shot 7-for-16 from 3-point range in the first half, but did most of their work inside with 34 points in the paint, including plenty of easy finishes by All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The duo combined for 33 points and seemed to have their team in cruise control.

Meanwhile the Thunder struggled early, shooting just 42-percent while missing their first 12 3-point attempts. The hole was deepest early in the second quarter, but everything came back down to earth. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander helped lead a comeback that cut the deficit to 14 before ending the half down 70-53. OKC shot over 50-percent in the quarter and drilled seven triples.

The Thunder’s momentum continued and L.A.’s momentum came close to a halt in the third quarter.

OKC guard Luguentz Dort scored 11 of his 19 points right after the break, including three triples while veteran center Mike Muscala also pitched in with a pair of deep makes. The energy seemed to lift the Thunder on both ends as they outscored L.A. 25-21 to cut the lead to 13 heading into the fourth. The Clippers shot just 7-for-20 in the third quarter.

Los Angeles sealed the deal down the stretch much like title contenders do on nights during the regular season.

George scored 11 of his 29 points to help close the books on his former team. He also finished with seven rebounds and five assists. Leonard was close to unstoppable, finishing with a game-high 31 while going 10-for-21 from the field with 11 boards. Former Thunder shot blocker Serge Ibaka was a pest too, going for 17 points with 11 rebounds while shooting 7-for-8 on field goal attempts.

Gilgeous-Alexander was magnificent on the offensive end once again for Oklahoma City, reaching 30 points with eight assists. George Hill scored 12 while Muscala and Hamidou Diallo scored 11 and 10 off the bench.

The baseball-like, two-game series continues Sunday as L.A. once again plays host at Staples Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT.