Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Conference Semifinals
Game 1, 6:30 p.m. PST, May 5, 2014
1. Who is the x-factor in this series?
Seth Partnow, (@WhrOffnsHppns): I have to say Chris Paul’s health. Westbrook is a physically punishing player under the best of times, and if you’re coming into a seven-game series already hurting, that’s less than ideal.
Law Murray, (@1maddskillz): Jamal Crawford, the Sixth Man of the Year. No one on Oklahoma City’s roster is trying to check him, as he dropped 20, 18, and 36 points in the games he played against the Thunder this season. Two of those games came in November, when Doc Rivers was still figuring things out with his personnel. He didn’t play in OKC’s win in L.A. last month. It’s a damn shame, by the way, that these games are going to be in Oklahoma City, not Seattle. I wonder how Jamal will feel about that…
Andrew Han, (@andrewthehan): De. An. Dre. Jor. Dan. He was a terror for much of the first round, punishing the mobile and agile Golden State Warriors on the glass. If he can do the same against the Thunder and also continue to alter shots at the rim, it allows the Clippers’ wings to play the tighter, more aggressive brand of defense needed to contain the likes of Durant and Westbrook.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): Thunder minutes distribution. If Scott Brooks decides to give major minutes to Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins, it’ll allow the Clipper guards to score like crazy along with letting DeAndre Jordan man the paint on the defensive end. If Brooks goes small, however, that makes things a little harder for the Clippers.
Patrick James, (@patrickmjames): The Clippers’ outside shooters. OKC is both susceptible to allowing threes and less than fantastic when it comes to shooting them. If Redick, Crawford, Barnes, and others knock down shots at a good clip, it could help swing the series. We’ve talked all year about how the team almost never loses when they make nine or more threes — let’s see whether that holds up this week.
Seerat Sohi, (@DamianTrillard): Kendrick Perkins, or better yet, Scott Brooks. He improved upon norms over the last few games of the Memphis series but Brooks’ adamancy to use Perkins ahead of the Thunder’s smaller, more potent lineups — or even seven-foot rookie rebounding machine Steven Adams — has spelt the Thunder’s demise in more than a few instances. If Perkins plays less than 20 minutes per game, Oklahoma wins. If not, well, they’re still really good. But it’s not a guarantee they’ll be successful.
Jovan Buha, (@jovanbuha): Matt Barnes. It goes without saying that his defense on Kevin Durant will likely determine this series. But the Clippers have struggled with inconsistent rebounding and three-point shooting all season, and Barnes has the ability to tilt both categories in their favor. With him on the floor against OKC, the Clippers had a +6.0 net rating this season. When he moved to the bench, their net rating dropped to -5.0. That’s an 11-point swing per 100 possessions. In the words of Andrew Han, the Ciippers need 2013 Matt Barnes.
2. The Clippers win if…
Partnow: I have to cop out of answering this one. There are so many moving parts on both teams that pointing to any one thing as key beforehand is foolish. Things that CAN’T happen for the Clips include Barnes foul trouble and Blake getting caught up in any nonsense with Steven “The Ruckus” Adams. I think I just made up his MMA name, and I like it. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Murray: …they are good at the line. Not trying to be cheap about it, but these games project to be high-scoring, close contests. The biggest difference between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers is at the free-throw line. While the Grizzlies attempted the second-fewest in the league this past season, the Clippers attempted the second-most. All of Oklahoma City’s big men, in particular, will give up some fouls. This is big for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They should get plenty of free throws. They need to make a respectable percentage of them, because Oklahoma City will. Prediction: Clippers in seven.
Han: …their three-point shooters hit career averages in percentage. The Thunder have had a notable weakness all season: they’re not very good at defending the long ball. If the Clippers’ shooters can even get to their norm, it will spread the floor in outrageous ways for Paul and Griffin to exploit. It’s also easier to set up a defense when the other team is taking the ball out of the hoop. We’ll know after the first game whether it’s Clippers in six or Thunder in seven. Prediction: Clippers in six.
Katz: …Griffin, Paul and Jordan outplay Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. Of course, the complementary players make a difference, but it’s going to be hard for Griffin to average 6.3 rebounds per game in another series and get a Clippers win. Conversely, if Kevin Durant plays like he did against Tony Allen (unlikely, by the by), the Thunder may not be able to pull it out. In its simplest form, the Clippers’ big three has to outplay that of the Thunder. Prediction: Thunder in seven.
James: …Chris Paul defends like he did in Round 1. Without an elite one-on-one wing defender like Tony Allen, it’s unlikely that the Clippers will shut down Kevin Durant. But if Chris Paul can frustrate Russell Westbrook and the team can force turnovers, then the Clippers can play to their strengths in transition. It goes without saying that Westbrook is a different cover than Steph Curry, but Paul’s success against Curry shouldn’t be ignored. Prediction: Clippers in six.
Sohi: …if Kendrick Perkins plays over 20 minutes per game. On a serious note, Blake Griffin needs to revert to fringe MVP, rim-destroying, playmaking savant or the Clippers don’t have a chance. That and Chris Paul has to be healthy. DeAndre Jordan and the funnelling powers of the perimeter will do what they can to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but if the Clippers want to come out victorious, they need to fight fire with fire. Should be a fun series. Prediction: Thunder in seven.
Buha: …their Big 3 matches or outplays the Thunder’s Big 3. Few teams can match the star power of the Thunder mano-a-mano — the Clippers are one of them. While the role players will certainly play a major factor in this series — J.J. Redick and Barnes’ defense and 3-point shooting, especially — it’ll probably come down to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul negating the offensive production of Durant and Russell Westbrook, and DeAndre Jordan winning the paint war against Serge Ibaka. Prediction: Clippers in 6.