When the Clippers beat Oklahoma City Thunder last Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were 2-for-12 shooting in the fourth quarter.
In the second half Monday night, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 1-for-13 shooting and the Clippers pulled away with an 18-4 run in the fourth quarter to win 92-77. The OKC loss combined with a Spurs win over Golden State moved the two teams into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Taken by themselves, the Clippers’ wins over the Thunder don’t mean much. And regular season results have limited relations to playoff success (remember, last regular season the Heat struggled against the Celtics and Bulls while the Lakers owned the Mavericks). But the Thunder have lost their last five games against playoff teams now. They are not right, which again does not spell playoff doom but it can make you hesitate.
I think we can take away a couple things from these games.
• Under pressure, the Thunder still have their offense desert them for stretches, in part because they turn the ball over too much (19 times this game). That cost them in the playoffs last year against Dallas, it will cost this year against teams that can make them pay. The Clippers stepped up their defense and in the second half OKC struggled, scoring just 25 points. The Thunder didn’t score the final 3:42 of this game. That was with Durant missing a shot in the lane guarded by Chris Paul. It was isolations and drive and kick, things the Clippers could defend.
The only reason the Thunder were close after three quarters was a monster game from Serge Ibaka, who had more baskets in the third quarter (five) than Durant and Westbrook did in the second half. Ibaka had 12 points in the third and seemed to be everywhere with rebounds and blocks.
• Last week Griffin told PBT in an interview that defense was key to the Clippers play of late. He’s right. The Clippers are starting to play more consistent defense and when they do they are a tough team to beat. What’s more, Gs leading that defensive charge — he is using his physicality on that end and it works. Also, the Clippers threw some zone at the Thunder and it slowed the visitors who were slow to recognize it. This was a nice change of pace defense for the Clips.
Griffin and Paul also are developing a better chemistry. The Clippers made a great little run using a pick-and-roll with Griffin and Paul at the top of the key — OKC tried a little bit of everything with Paul off the pick and nothing worked, but at this point they trapped him — and Paul slipped the bounce pass to a rolling Griffin. Each time Ibaka was there to greet him in the lane but other help would come as well from Kevin Durant. That left Nick Young wide open in the corner and he drained the three. Young was on fire for the night, scoring 19 points on 10 shots.
I’m not convinced that in a seven game series the Thunder do not prevail. The playoffs are their own animal. But the Thunder have had flaws exposed that they will fix or get ripped wide open in the post season.
And the Clippers are still a team on the rise that could climb up (they are one game back of the Lakers for the three seed). If they can put performances on defense like the second half of this game on consistently, watch out. There is a lot of talent on this side.