There was nothing “easy about Sunday morning”, as the Los Angeles Clippers paid a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a matchup that would feature two of the highest scoring teams in the NBA with the Clippers putting up a second best 106 points per game, and the Thunder scoring an average of 104 – making them the sixth highest scoring squad in the league.
Matt Barnes and his 31 percent shooting average from behind the arc opened up the Clippers offensive onslaught with two of his six three-pointers, followed by a Blake Griffin perimeter jumper and a DeAndre Jordan dunk. Midway through the first quarter the Clippers put up seven fast break points, 12 of which came from Griffin and Jordan. Questionable for the game after a thumb injury in Memphis, Chris Paul commented on the fast start with, “We were on the plane yesterday flying here and we were just talking about how we hadn’t beaten any good teams on the road, any really good teams, and this would be a perfect time to start”. Paul did play with a bandage on his thumb, finishing the game with 18 points and 12 assists.
The Clippers lead was short-lived, as the Thunder used good floor spacing, maximum focus on rebounding, and a concerted effort to attack the paint, producing a 40-32 lead with nine-minutes left in the second quarter. Fifth-year man Darren Collison who contributed seven points, two assists and four rebounds in 22 minutes of action led the Clippers second unit. Collison was a nice response to an OKC team who fell asleep at the wheel and allowed the Clippers to get out in transition, scoring 34 fast break points on the night, compared to OKC’s 17. With injuries to Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, Collison has had to fill in at the starting point guard spot, and at times has played small guard, giving the Clippers no drop in offensive pace, and another wing defender to stop dribble penetration. He’s one of the unsung heroes of the team, and a player the Clippers will be thankful for not trading away before the deadline.
Limiting the Clippers to being a half court team and slowing their pace a bit, OKC head coach Scott Brooks called for the hack-a-DeAndre method with five-minutes left in the game where Jordan would go 4-9 from the line. A pair of OKC turnovers, and poor shots from Thunder guard Russell Westbrook would get the Clippers back into the game, after a 4-point play from a Barnes three and Griffin free throw would help push the Clipper lead to 72-66 at the end of the half.
The second half was a back and forth contest with a surprise show from the Thunder’s eldest player Derek Fisher, who hit five three-pointers in the fourth quarter, two of which were in the face of Clippers recently demoted (from the starting lineup) Jared Dudley who proved himself incapable of defending players his age or an NBA ancient 40 years old. Fisher finished with 15 points while Dudley gave another ghostly, barely recognizable performance – ending the night with two points in 12 minutes. Crawford would score five-points in the remaining minute and a half to push the Clippers over the hump for the win. On their tough performance with only 11 active players, Crawford commented “Doc was on us, telling us that in the playoffs, you’re going to lose a home game at some point and you’ve got to be able to win on the road. Hopefully this is a win for us that gets us moving.”
On a night where Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kevin Durant would produce the first 42 point, 10 assist game of his career, the Clippers shot the lights out to defeat the Thunder 125 to 117. OKC forward Serge Ibaka finished with 20 points, followed by Russell Westbrook with 13. Westbrook who was still trying his stride, appeared in only his third-game after returning from knee surgery. Although better with him in the lineup, OKC has gone 0-2 since his return. Crawford finished the game with 36 points, Barnes tallied 24, and Blake Griffin had a quiet night with only 20 points after being in foul trouble for most of the night. Coach Doc Rivers commented on the win with, “It’s a good feeling coming in here and winning against this team. They’re an excellent defensive team and the way we scored against them is really impressive for us. I don’t think we had a quarter under 26 points.”
Next for the Clippers is a visit to New Orleans against the Pelicans and All-Star forward Anthony Davis. They won’t see the Thunder again until they matchup for the final time this season on April 9th at Staples Center.