Here’s the roundup from last night’s win over the Thunder by Michael Shagrin. Enjoy.
The Clippers beat the top-seeded Thunder, clinched their first playoff birth since 2006, and played the best half of defense this season. Last night’s game produced about as many celebratory moments as the entirety of last season, so it would seem appropriate for all you Clipper fans to take a deep breath or splash some water on your face to confirm that this is, in fact, not a dream. Blake Griffin isn’t still sidelined with a torn up knee. Chris Paul isn’t on the Lakers. And this has all transpired with Donald Sterling’s approval. Four joyous takeaways from the victory against the Thunder:
Blake Griffin has an unbelievable feel for the game — that is, when he wants to. During the first quarter, there was a lot of staring at the refs as well as a ton of leaking to the perimeter near the end of the defensive possession in order to get a head start running up the court. But as the night progressed, so did Blake’s mentality. He had a workman’s stat line topped off with six assists and a season-high four blocks. As the game got more physical, Blake made the Thunder acutely aware of his presence in the interior, grabbing rebounds on the defensive end and garnering a disproportionate share of attention from the Thunder defense. When Griffin didn’t get a continuation call from Joey Crawford in the fourth quarter, he instinctively ran over to him with his hands on his head before being warned against such a provocation by Swaggy P (alternate moniker: the Artist Formerly Known as Nick Young.) Blake regained his composure, then coolly walked over to Crawford (but still a safe distance away) and asked why he didn’t get the continuation. Bravo, Blake! Lastly, he brought the house down with consecutive dunks to put the Clippers up by double digits in the fourth quarter. Youtube worthy highlight. Notice the post-dunk roar of Staples Center.
Zone D and Adjustments
The Clippers went to a zone defense in the third quarter and the Thunder just didn’t have an answer for it. Whether it’s a reflection on Scotty Brooks, the Thunder’s lack of role players who can space the floor, or the Clippers finally understanding Dean Demopoulos’ “Black Zone”, the strategy worked like a charm. Throwing the zone at this juggernaut of a Thunder offense required some adjustments and some patience. Though the Clippers forced the Thunder into bad shots via the zone throughout the second half, the lack of a man-to-man matchup really hindered the Clippers’ ability to get defensive rebounds. Serge Ibaka took advantage of the hole in the zone by grabbing four offensive boards in the third quarter, but adjustments were made with surprising success. Vinny pulled a lumbering Kenyon Martin in favor of Reggie Evans and presto! problem solved. The Clippers got their rebounding mojo back and the Staples Center got a shot of life with a REGGIE chant. This performance proved that if the Clippers can incorporate the Black Zone into their defensive repertoire, the Playoffs could last a whole lot longer.
Efficiency and Range
One of the primary harbingers for the Clippers game-to-game success is their three point shooting percentage. The Clippers shot 45% from deep against the Thunder (9-20) and almost every single attempt was a smart look. This is a product of Chris Paul having a particularly unselfish night, but it also has it’s roots in the conscious effort of Vinny del Negro to get his hot shooters open looks from downtown. When Nick Young had the hot hand in the third quarter, he was fed in the same corner multiple times. Swaggy P even made two in a row to bring the Clippers to within one, first using a DeAndre Jordan off-screen, then making himself available as a kick-out option when the defense collapsed on Blake’s drive down the lane. He finished 3-4 from long range. The efficient three point shooting didn’t stop with Swaggy. Mo Williams showed the ice in his veins when he stepped into a straight-away three at the start of the fourth to give the Clippers their first lead since the game’s opening minutes. Vinny also engineered a flare for Mo executed off a K-Mart screen (with an impeccable pass from Chris Paul). Mo capitalized as he has done all season. He finished 2-4 from range. Last, but certainly not least, Randy Foye missed his first long range shot in the first few minutes quarter, but within only a few possessions, Randy drilled the same sideline three. He went on to go 3-4 for the game. To wrap up this roundabout discussion of efficiency, Nick Young, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye combined to go 8-12 from three-point land. Keep up that sort of insane productivity from the role players and the Clippers will go deep into the playoffs.
The Clippers held Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to a combined 11-34 from the field. WHAT?! Are you kidding me? This isn’t just any duo we’re talking about here. Durant and Westbrook are arguably the best one-two punch in the NBA and they made less than a third of their shots? Maybe Kobe and Shaq will get back together and the Clippers will hold them to 33% from the floor. For the other absurd number, the Clippers outscored the Thunder 49-25 in the second half. Once again, ARE YOU KIDDING? If the Clippers bring the same level of intensity to the Postseason—on both ends of the floor—that they brought to Staples last night, the flaws in the Clippers roster can be painted over and a Championship contender could emerge.