Clippers lose but prove they belong

The Clippers may not have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, but they did make a statement. 

In a game they seemed destined to lose, they forced it to overtime. In a game in which guard Chris Paul was far from his best, they kept it close. 

There were enough areas to criticize, but their 117-111 loss to the Thunder was another confirmation that the Clippers are indeed one of the two or three best teams in the Western Conference.

The defeat ended their six-game winning streak and left them with a 1-1 record on a four-game swing, but the Clippers could still feel good about their resiliency and refusal to give in.

They trailed for most of the game and were behind by five points with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in regulation, but they finished with a flourish.  Matt Barnes, starting in place of an injured Caron Butler, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a layup that tied the game 102-102 with 36.9 seconds left. Paul even had a shot to win it, but his jumper at the buzzer missed.

How different a game it might have been had Paul been in an offensive rhythm. But he struggled with his shooting touch the entire night, making just 2 of 14 attempts and scoring nine points.

“Every shot that I shot, I didn’t have my legs,” Paul said after the game. “Every shot was short.”

The Clippers got 23 points from Blake Griffin in his return to his hometown, and Jamal Crawford added 20, but the Thunder got 35 from Kevin Durant and 23 from Russell Westbrook. 

The Thunder also won at the free-throw line, making 34 of 39 compared to 24 of 33 for the Clippers.

In overtime, Oklahoma City got two quick three-point baskets from Westbrook and Durant for a 108-104 lead and never trailed. The Clippers got to within one point on a three-point play by DeAndre Jordan, but a pull-up jumper by Westbrook and two free throws by Durant, who was 19 of 21 from the line, pushed the lead to five.

It was a tough loss, but as the Clippers slowly make their way across the country, they’re proving to opposing teams that they’re going to contend for the best record in the conference over the next 5½ months.

They have Thanksgiving Day off but play back-to-back games at Brooklyn and Atlanta beginning Friday.