A showdown between the leagues elite isn’t a showdown when one team’s best player is sidelined. It doesn’t mean it didn’t sting, though. The Clippers were within 7 with 9 minutes to go in the fourth quarter before a Durant banked 3 put it out of reach. A banked 3. Who needs a drink?
Recap | Box score
Defining Moment: One dagger often isn’t good enough against the Clippers (ask Memphis), so Kevin Durant brought three. Durant’s back-to-back 3-pointers and huge dunk locked up Lawler’s Law and a huge road victory.
MVP: Kevin Durant. Durant has struggled against the Clippers in the past, and his two-point first quarter appeared to foreshadow another tough night. Nope. Durant caught fire from deep late, dropping a 32-7-7 night against pretty good defense.
X-Factor: 3-point shooting. When Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha are knocking in shots from deep, just go home. OKC shot 15-for-27 from behind the arc, while no Chris Paul equaled no open 3-pointers (4-for-16) for the Clippers.
– D.J. Foster
Tweet of the Game
Butler blocks a shot into head of ref, who takes a tumble. Thought crowd was laughing, but I’m told they were arguing call. Bravo, humanity.
— Justin Verrier (@JustinVerrier) January 23, 2013
Eric Bledsoe Per36 Stat o’ The Night
ClipperBlogLive’s Best Moment
Jordan makes a veiled threat, but Andrew bruises like a peach.
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A Rock and a Hard Place
Spurs or Thunder? Thunder or Spurs? With the season now at its midway point, and the Clippers battling for the West’s top spot, many have wondered which of the West’s other elite teams would make for a tougher match-up in the playoffs. Often, people pose this question as a choice between the ball movement and crisp execution of a veteran Spurs team vs. the overwhelming athletic gifts of the young and explosive Thunder.
The decisive third quarter of tonight’s game – when the Thunder pulled away, draining 6 3s on the way to racking up 20 points in the first 6 minutes of the second half – showed how faulty this premise is – and, by extension, why I think the Thunder are the far more problematic May match-up. Defensively this season, the Clippers have succeeded by aggressively double-teaming and trapping in the half-court, overwhelming ball-handlers and forcing turnovers and bad decisions. However, you can’t do this without leaving a man open (duh, I know). It’s a calculated gamble that most teams won’t be able to consistently beat the trap by swinging the ball to an open shooter.
When slower perimeter players like Willie Green and Caron Butler are on the floor, there are more times that they are unable to recover back to open shooters, and the gamble pays off less often. Remember the Spurs series last May? A whole lot of swing passes, a whole lot of open corner threes. And, for the first three minutes of the second half tonight, that’s what happened. The Thunder beat the traps by getting the ball to corner shooters before the Clips could recover. That’s “Spurs” basketball.
But tonight – unlike the endless Spur barrage last May – the Clippers tightened up defensively. Hill and Barnes replaced Butler and Green. The rotations were quicker and tighter. Shooters had less time and less space… and it barely mattered because Kevin Durant went into full God mode – banking three pointers, hitting impossible leaners in the lane. flicking up effortless 30-foot shots as if they were free throws. They Clippers loaded up on him, ran three guy at him – it didn’t matter. Kevin Durant was going to score.
The Spurs have a great system; the Thunder have an unstoppable force. A system can be slowed… all you can do with Durant is hope.
- Jordan Heimer
Blake Griffin: Athlete, Dunker…Passer?
The Chris Paul-less Clippers have their offensive strategy. They use it, but they just aren’t taking advantage like they should. And the offense is Blake Griffin: Facilitator.
The Paul-less Clippers have allowed Griffin to create in the first quarter. Becoming one of the best passing bigs in the league, he gets the ball in the high post and looks to pass or score. Either way, he creates and he’s doing it efficiently. Griffin had four assists in the first quarter (and could have actually had a few more), but then the Clips went away from him.
Griffin continued to get the ball, but in different sets. The Clippers found themselves feeding second-half Blake in post-up situations – scenarios that he could score, but ones that he couldn’t find others to finish for him. It was different from the first quarter.
But that first quarter offense worked for a reason.
With no Chris Paul, the Clippers don’t always have a conventional facilitator when Eric Bledsoe is settling for long two-point jumpers. That means the job should be Griffin’s to take over. Hopefully in the future, we won’t see the Clips get away from Griffin’s facilitating after magnificently creative first period.
- Fred Katz
Durant Delivers Dagger
After cutting Oklahoma City’s lead to eight about halfway through the fourth quarter, Durant finally made some real noise. After banking in a 3-pointer minutes earlier, Durant touched nothing but net on his next 3-point attempt. That one felt so nice that the very next time down the floor, Durant pulled up from the left wing and did it again. Nylon.
It was right about this time that you figured the Clippers were done. The life was understandably sucked out of the crowd, there was no Chris Paul to break in case of emergency, and 14 points is an awful lot to make up in half a quarter.
But who knows? Maybe they could have, if only Durant’s flair for the dagger wasn’t contagious. Out of the timeout, as he faked a pull-up and penetrated, Durant kicked it to a wide-open Serge Ibaka in the corner for 3. Forget that Ibaka has made exactly 9 shots form behind the arc in his career — it fell in like it was from Durant’s hands himself.
If there were a referee more of the Mills Lane variety than the Joey Crawford type, he would have called the fight right then and there. But after a Matt Barnes 3-pointer on the other end to answer Ibaka’s, Durant made extra sure to drive the point home with an emphatic spike right down the heart of the defense.
- D.J. Foster, for ProBasketballTalk
Silver Linings Box Score
Oklahoma City leads the league in Free Throw Rate (34.5%). They average 27.3 trips to the charity stripe per game. Heck, Durant was 41-42 in free throws the prior two games. The Clippers? They are 6th in opponent Free Throw Rate (30%) and give up 23.6 free throws a game.
Here’s the bit of positive news: Los Angeles held the Thunder to only 14 attempts and Durant/Westbrook to eight free throws.
With the exclusion of part of the third quarter, the Clippers played reasonable defense. If they can keep up their defensive prowess while staying in the referee’s good graces, that’s just one less thing an opponent can use against them.
- Andrew Han