There I go again trying to take credit for Michael Shagrin’s recap. Apologies. These are Michael’s thoughts. – D.J.
This game will be talked about. It will be talked about a lot. So many narratives were eloquently parsed together in this game, from the ascension of the Clippers, to the lack of true post play for the Thunder, and finally on to Blake Griffin checking another box on his OKC hit list. The Clippers played near their ceiling, so tonight’s Two Takeaways double as what a highly functioning Clippers team should look like in the Playoffs.
The Eric Bledsoe Effect. Other than Chris Paul, nobody on the Clippers roster can exert more influence when playing his ordinary game. On the offensive end, Bledsoe has the capacity to run the break for a less than an exalted fast break team. As for his defense, tenacious perimeter pressure (an invaluable commodity to these Clippers) eases the basket protection duties of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. When the frontcourt doesn’t have to be concerned with running out to contest a wide open three, they can focus on keeping their assignment from garnering strategic low post positioning or, even better, on boxing out then corralling a rebound off said jump shot.
While Bledsoe’s stat line isn’t anything to gush over, his pestering presence around Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter halted OKC’s go-to move of the night–that is Westbrook getting to the charity strike. During the three minutes Bledsoe guarded Westbrook in the final frame, Westbrook neither got to the line nor took a single uncontested shot, and ultimately he came away with nothing. The Clippers, on the other hand, came away with the lead. After Vinny pulled Bledsoe in favor of Foye (whose assignment became Westbrook), OKC’s first offensive play was a Westbrook isolation where he burned Foye and got to the line for two shots. Don’t underestimate the power of the Bledsoe domino effect.
Blake Griffin’s Seven Assists. Besides being able to revel in Blake Griffin’s passing abilities, this takeaway is an ode to Mike Smith, who never misses an opportunity to tell Clipper Nation that the team is undefeated when Blake Griffin has more than five assists. Logically, this would make sense. Blake is a beast in the post, and when he’s effectively utilized down low, opposing defenses anoint him Public Enemy No. 1 (that is, if he doesn’t put you on a poster first). When all of the attention is on Blake, he has the luxury of being able to patiently wait while cluttered passing lanes part like the Red Sea. If the team isn’t afflicted by complacency, the other four Clippers on the floor can gravitate towards their high-percentage shooting locations and expect to have the ball delivered to them.
Conventional wisdom goes that in order to get your bigs to play hard, you’ve got to give them touches. A similar logic applies to the Clippers’ platoon of spot-up shooters. If you can find them in their spots at the appropriate time, they will work hard. The shots may not fall but the composition of this Clippers team isn’t changing, so it must be considered a positive sign when the Clippers systematically uproot the forces of complacency that hinder their achievement.
Tonight was a big win. If the Clippers can find a way to sustain this level of intensity, particularly on the defensive end, we could be looking at a summer of basketball in Lob City.