Start Time: 3:00 PM (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
Oklahoma City will conclude their stay in Los Angeles with another game against the Clippers. The Clippers won on Friday night as a result of a strong first quarter. LA built a double-digit lead in the first quarter and that deficit was insurmountable for the Thunder. However, the Thunder were competitive from the second quarter onwards; OKC were able to match the Clippers blow for blow.
The Thunder will play this afternoon in Los Angeles before heading to Portland for the second night of the back to back. The Blazers have been weakened due to injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and CJ McCollum. Tomorrow’s game will be a good chance for the Thunder to get a win on the road.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
The Thunder played pretty well against the Clippers but OKC’s poor start meant that the strong play later in the game did not really mean anything. In the first quarter, Oklahoma City only scored 18 points and the Thunder’s general energy levels were pretty poor.
The Clippers took advantage of the Thunder’s lack of intensity and established a huge lead that Oklahoma City could not overcome. The Thunder have to set the tone early in today’s game and play hard from the start of the game.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a brilliant game on Friday, he had 30 points and 8 assists and played with a real sense of swagger. For a large portion of Friday’s game, Gilgeous-Alexander was guarded by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. George and Leonard are elite lockdown wings who are adept at taking premier scorers out of games.
Gilgeous-Alexander seemed to enjoy the challenge that Leonard and George presented, he had a smile on his face every time he came down the floor and duelled those two players. SGA faced adversity and found efficient offense consistently on a night when the Thunder needed him to deliver.
In today’s game, I would like to see Gilgeous-Alexander hunt his match-ups more. Shai had success against Kawhi but it was clear that Leonard’s elite defense was fatiguing for SGA. Gilgeous-Alexander found easier looks when he was guarded by Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris.
Patrick Beverley was unable to stay with Gilgeous-Alexander the other night and had to foul to slow SGA down. Gilgeous-Alexander has long strides and uses his explosive burst artfully; he is a difficult match-up for somebody like Patrick Beverley who is most effective when he is able to stay in front of his assignment.
Marcus Morris was too slow-footed to guard Shai. Gilgeous-Alexander exploited his pace advantage on Friday night and he was able to get to the rim with ease whenever Morris tried to guard him. It would be prudent to see Shai start to hunt his match-ups and find favourable situations for himself.
Oklahoma City have had a hectic schedule in the last three or four days. By the time this five game road trip concludes, the Thunder will have played five games in eight days. Fatigue is a real issue for the Thunder and the Thunder have made a point of managing minutes of veteran players carefully. George Hill and Al Horford have both sat out games this season so far.
I would expect Coach Mark to rest Hill in this game or in the game against the Portland Trailblazers. There is no sense in overplaying George Hill and risking his physical wellbeing. Hill could be a useful trade chip for the Thunder at the deadline; OKC will not get good trade offers if George Hill is hurt.
Nicolas Batum was an underrated pickup for the Clippers in the offseason. Batum was written off by a lot of people as a result of him spending three years mired in mediocrity in Charlotte. The Hornets’ lack of success and Nic’s inability to elevate Charlotte has heavily influenced how Batum is perceived. Very few people knew what to expect out of Batum on the Clippers.
Coach Tyronn Lue has started Nicolas Batum so far and Batum has been very good as an utility man for the Clips. Batum’s well-rounded, versatile skill-set means that he is able to fill in gaps on offense and defense effectively. Kawhi and PG had big games against the Thunder on Friday but I would argue that Nicolas Batum was a key part of the Clippers’ success.
Batum had 14 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Batum influenced every phase of the play and his hot shooting allowed the Clippers to build a big lead. The Thunder have to be sharper on their rotations to corner shooters; OKC cannot allow Batum to get wide open looks from downtown.
The Clippers have used Paul George as a primary playmaker this season and George has shown a lot of growth in this role. However, PG is still relatively new to this role and the lack of experience is evident in George’s ball retention. Paul is averaging 4.0 turnovers per game and he has been sloppy at times this season when it comes to handling the ball.
Oklahoma City have to pressure George and try to force turnovers. I would like to see Coach Mark run a blitz coverage on PG when he is bringing the ball up the court. Forcing turnovers weakens the Clippers’ offense and provides the Thunder with a good opportunity to get transition scores.
The Thunder cannot keep up with the Clippers offensively, Los Angeles are simply too effective in the half-court. Transition points and free throws are two of the most efficient ways to compensate for a lack of effectiveness in the half-court.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been performing like an All-Star this season. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 25.7 points, 8.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds over the last three games. Shai is playing at a high level and if he can continue playing like this, he will easily be an All-Star.