Thunder Fall Short to Clippers
The OKC Thunder are soooooo similar to last year’s team in that every now and than they make you want to rip your hair out.
Sometimes, I really wish I knew what goes on in Russell Westbrook’s head. The Thunder were down two with 10 seconds left. Westbrook gets the inbound, rushes down the floor and pulls up around five feet behind the three-point line with five seconds left on the clock. It was too strong, going off back iron, and the clock expired. The Thunder were defeated by the Los Angeles Clippers 110-108 on Friday night.
That was inexcusable and inexplicable. If you want to go for a three and the win and prevent overtime, fine, but it was an off-balance shot from way behind the line. Dude, you’re a superfreak athlete, take the ball to the hole and make that defense collapse around you. You had a wide open lane. Blake was the closest defender between you and the rim. Mbah a Moute can’t stay in front of you, you just roasted him on a drive like five minutes ago. And you’re a historically bad three point shooter. C’mon Russ, you have to do better than that to tie or win that game.
And what a game it was. This one had a very chippy, playoff vibe to it from the very first whistle, of which there weren’t that many tonight (at least there weren’t until the Hack-a-Jordan reared its ugly head late in the fourth quarter, but I’ll get to that in due course). The Thunder are responsible for the only blemish in the Clippers record this year, having defeated them at the Staples Center last Wednesday.
This had all the makings of a defensive battle, as the Clippers were the number 1 ranked team in the NBA in defensive rating at 89.3, having allowed 6 points less per 100 possessions than the second ranked Atlanta Hawks (95.9). The Thunder were ranked 4th in the league at 98.9.
OKC limited the Clippers to 5-22 (22.7%) from the field and 2-7 (28.6%) from three in the first quarter. Conversely, the Thunder weren’t much better from the field, shooting 9-23 (29.1%), however they were 50% from deep thanks to Victor Oladipo continuing (for the time being) his unreal stretch from deep. Dipo was a majority of the Thunder’s offense in the first frame, scoring 11 of OKC’s first 15 points over the first 8 minutes on 4-6 shooting.
After torching the Clippers for 35 points last Wednesday, it was clear Doc Rivers was committed to having his guys stop Russell Westbrook tonight. Russ still had a big stat-line, finishing with 29 points, 14 boards, and 9 dimes, but he was only 9-25 from the field, or 36%.
The real heroes of the first half, which ended tied at 50, were Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson, who combined for 23 points and 5-9 from deep. Let’s stop and pause for a quick moment and reflect upon the fact that Andre Roberson finished the first half with 3-3 from beyond the arc. I know, right?!
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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Enes Kanter’s contributions off the pine in the first half, putting up 8 points and 7 boards. Kanter would finish with 13 and 11 in 21 minutes. The Clippers were shooting only 38% from the field at the half, but 50% from three. The Thunder bench outscored the Clippers bench in the first half 15-14. Not much, but the bench has been pretty lackluster thus far this season, so even a one-point advantage was nice to see. The Thunder had trouble getting to the line all night, finishing the evening with 19 attempts, only five of which came in the first half.
Things really got ramped up after the half. Both teams left everything on the floor. Blake Griffin took over for the Clippers in the 3rd, putting up 13 points. Griffin finished with 25. The unsung hero of the Clippers this evening was J.J. Redick, who absolutely destroyed the Thunder from deep. Personally, I think Redick is one of the hardest covers in the NBA because he almost never stops moving on offense. It’s got to be exhausting. Redick finished with 16 points on 6-12 from the field and 4-7 from deep.
The Clippers led by as much as 11 at one point, thanks in large part to Redick’s marksmanship and the Thunder having no answer for Deandre Jordan on the offensive boards. Of course, Chris Paul was also his normal self, putting up 17 points and 10 assists and he made running an NBA offense look easy.
Domantis Sabonis came alive in the third, finding the stroke from deep. He’d finish with 12 on 4-5 from three. The Thunder as a team finished the evening with a franchise record 16 made three pointers. I still don’t understand how Steven Adams only got 5 shots in 32 minutes. Adams didn’t do much except for set screens for most of the night, and the newly minted 100 million-dollar man needs to get fed more to live up to those big checks.
The fourth quarter was great back and forth action until around the 5-minute mark. That’s when Billy Donovan decided to employ the infamous Hack-a-Jordan strategy. This really sucks. It’s awful to watch, and the NBA needs to do something about it. I don’t care if it’s a viable strategy (which it wasn’t tonight; Jordan, a 35% free throw shooter this year, hit 50% tonight), it’s a buzzkill to every good game in which it’s used, and it’s thoroughly unpleasant for the fans.
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Anyways, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford was lighting it up for the Clippers in the last quarter, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the quarter. He missed a big free throw down the stretch, and Austin Rivers whiffed on two more big free throws, keeping the Thunder in the game.
After tying the game, Russell decided to take that ill-advised three pointer to put the final nail in the Thunder’s coffin tonight. All in all though, the Thunder played their hearts out as a team tonight, and unfortunately, you can’t win them all, and OKC has now fallen to 6-3 on the year. The Clippers improve to a league best 8-1.
Unlike getting run off the court by the shorthanded Raptors, the Thunder have nothing to be ashamed about tonight, except the whole Hack-a-Jordan thing. The Thunder host the Orlando Magic and former Thunder Buddy Serge Ibaka in the final game of this home stand on Sunday.