Russell Westbrook is one of the top point guards in the league, an athletic force that puts incredible pressure on opposing defenses because of his aggressive style of play. But in the frequent discussion of his flaws by critics one thing gets overlooked — he’s just not a very good defender. He makes some steals, but his aggressive style also leads to him getting burned at times.
Like Monday night.
In the series opener Monday night Chris Paul did everything but steal Westbrook’s lunch money. Paul rained three pointers, put up 17 first quarter points (32 for the game), got his teammates involved with 10 assists, and led what became a Clippers blowout of the Thunder in Game 1, 122-105 (and it wasn’t that close).
The Clippers now have a 1-0 series lead, with Game 2 Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder had just come out of a physical series against the Grizzlies and going up against the Clippers they just seemed to relax on that front — they didn’t want to bang, didn’t want to be physical and that let the Clippers shooters just get too comfortable.
That’s the attitude adjustment, the Thunder also have to adjust their pick-and-roll defensive strategy.
The Clippers brought two bigs (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) out high to give Paul options, then whatever he chose the Thunder switched it and put a big on Paul. Those bigs played back a little and that gave Paul room to shoot — and he did, scoring those 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting, hitting 8-of-9 from three. Five of those threes came over big men switched out on him.
Early on it this looked like the entertaining series we all hoped for — neither team could stop the other, both pushing the pace and knocking down shots. The Thunder got out to a six-point lead.
Then Chris Paul started to take over, scoring at will and knocking down threes. Actually, all the Clippers were knocking down threes, they started 9-of-15 from beyond the arc.
The Clippers starting five played 22 minutes on the night, shot 65.9% and were +21. They owned the Thunder starters.
Then the Clipper bench came in and extends lead, match ups favor them. Jamal Crawford had 17 on the night.
Clippers led by 14 after one quarter, got that up to 22 at points in the second quarter and then the entire second half was the Clippers show. At one point the Thunder made a little run to cut the lead down to 15, the Clippers responded with an 11-0 run. They led by 20 or more most of the second half.
After the game in televised interviews Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook sounded calm, like guys who had been here before, who had been down in a series pretty darn recently and found a way to win it.