If you watched Thursday night’s Thunder win over the Clippers, and compared it to the first time these two teams met — at least up to the point in that first game when Serge Ibaka was ejected — you could come away saying that the Thunder are just flat out better than the Clippers. At least right now.
They were Thursday night when the Thunder led from the opening tip and were in control the whole way of a 105-91 win in Oklahoma City. Los Angeles make little runs but never got this to a one possession game, and whenever they’d get close the Thunder had answers — the game never felt in doubt.
OKC opened the game on a 13-3 run, led by Kevin Durant who did as he pleased in the first quarter on his way to 12 points (he finished the game with 28).
More than that, there were two other real keys to this game that are more troubling signs for the Clippers if they are looking ahead to more meaningful games against the Thunder or other elite teams.
First, when Serge Ibaka is on the court he gives the Clippers big men fits. Ibaka finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, plus he had five rebounds and three blocks. He also plays good defense on Griffin, although Griffin still had 27 points and showed off a solid midrange game (from the left side of the court, anyway, where he was 5-of-6 outside the key).
Second, and the bigger long-term issue in Los Angeles, is they are not getting enough from the bench. The Thunder bench outplayed the Clippers reserves — Jeremy Lamb had 11 points and was +9, Reggie Jackson had 9 points and was +14, Steven Adams had 6 points, 7 rebounds and was +10. The Clippers count on Jamal Crawford to create offense (he had 18 points) but Ryan Hollins was a -12, Darren Collison -7 and nobody else played well.
Look at it this way: in the 17 minutes the starting five played together the Clippers were -3, once you had to mix anyone else in with them and Los Angeles was -11. Missing Matt Barnes (eye injury) was part of it, but that’s not all of it.
There are all kinds of caveats here for the Clippers. First, you can’t read much into November games, teams evolve and improve (usually) over the course of the season. Second, this was a schedule makers loss — the Clippers went to OKC on the second night of a back-to-back while the Thunder were rested.
Still, what these two early games showed me is that the Clippers have a lot of work to do this season. Maybe some with the roster, certainly some with Doc Rivers getting his bench to buy into the defense.
Oklahoma City is back to where they were a year ago before the Russell Westbrook injury — they are contenders. The Clippers are still aspiring.