LOS ANGELES — The Thunder looked to be well on their way to a convincing win over the Clippers on Wednesday, following a strong first half that saw them dominating the game offensively, and doing so with relative ease.
But the results of an entanglement between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin with 6.2 seconds remaining in the half changed all of that, and the loss of Ibaka via ejection impacted the game to the point where the Clippers took control almost immediately to begin the second half.
A 30-16 third quarter sealed OKC’s fate, and L.A. finished with a 111-103 victory to improve to 6-3 on the season. It was the Thunder’s second loss of the year, but head coach Scott Brooks refused to blame it on the loss of Ibaka, who had already amassed 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in under 17 minutes of action.
“They just got tangled up,” Brooks said, when asked to explain how he saw it afterward. “That’s part of it. That’s nothing that I get into. I respect what they do, my job is to coach. Players play, officials officiate the game. I have no complaints about what happened. The bottom line is they outplayed us, they created some turnovers on our part, and offensive rebounds. That’s why we lost the game. We didn’t lose the game because of that incident.”
The incident, as Brooks put it, unfolded after Ibaka flung Griffin toward the floor after the two became entangled. Matt Barnes was right there as he always seems to be, and immediately shoved Ibaka, escalating the situation. Barnes was also ejected, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. And not surprisingly, Doc Rivers didn’t think that what Barnes did warranted an early shower.
“The only way I think Matt can possibly get thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing,” Rivers said. “I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates, at least he did on that one. And that’s good.”
Barnes may be done playing the part of enforcer, at least if a since-deleted message he posted to his Twitter account is to be believed. “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these [n—–]! All this [s—] does is cost me money,” he wrote.
Regardless of how everyone views what happened, the impact on the game’s outcome was undeniable. The Thunder were already without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is away from the team due to a death in the family, and with Ibaka disqualified that left them extremely thin on the front line. OKC was getting whatever it wanted offensively in the first half — the team scored 33 points in the final 8:05 of the first quarter, by the time they had the lead to 11 in the second they had scored 26 of 42 points in the paint, and the spacing Ibaka helped provide was an important part of the Thunder shooting 54.5 percent from the field over the first two periods.
Ibaka claimed he hadn’t seen a replay of what happened, so he didn’t want to talk too much about it afterward. He also seemed done with it, no doubt empowered by his teammates and their “no excuses” mantra that was everywhere after this one.
“It’s a physical game, and anything can happen,” Ibaka said. “The referee made the decision, so I’ll take it. I didn’t see the video of it afterward, so I’ll need to watch it.
“I was very disappointed, but I’ll learn from my mistake,” Ibaka said. “All I can do know is focus on the next game.”
Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting for his team, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, with 18 coming in the second half. He blamed everything but the ejection of Ibaka for the loss, while sticking to repeating his coach’s message that there were plenty of other reasons the game was lost.
“We’re not making no excuses,” Durant said. “We’ve got to finish the game out. No excuses. No matter who’s out there, we’ve just got to play. They beat us.”