Thanks to Chris Paul the Los Angeles Clippers have a 1-0 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in their conference semi-final series, but it doesn’t quite feel like they have the momentum. Paul’s 32 points including 8 three-pointers, guided the Clippers to a easy victory that doesn’t quite fit in with the arc we perceived this series to have and when these two teams step on the court tonight, it’s going to have that game 1 feel to it.
Unexpected offense is great and it can assist you in grabbing a victory in a playoff series, but it can’t win you a series and that is why the Clippers blueprint for success for the remainder of the series begins on the defensive end. It appeared Chris Paul did no wrong on Monday night, but Russell Westbrook put up 29 points on 9-14 shooting and also knocked down 9 of 10 free throws.
The Westbrook problem is one that cannot be easily resolved. The Clips did a great job last series of playing the Warriors guards tight and funnelling them inside to DeAndre Jordan in the event they needed help. The strategy appears viable against the Thunder’s guards because Jordan has to cover the offensively inactive Kendrick Perkins. That being said, Russell Westbrook tries to create as much contact as possible and is usually successful as we saw in game 1.
DeAndre Jordan proved to be the Clippers in their series with Golden State if he were to get into foul trouble it would be problematic considering the lack of solid interior bench players the Clippers have and Doc’s reputation for not being the most apt in game manager. This bears the question what is the best way to play Westbrook? The answer sounds simple, give him the 3.
Westbrook fancies himself as an outside shooter although he’s only shot a tad above 25 percent from behind the arc in these playoffs. By switching matchups, playing off of him, making Westbrook never believe he’s got a great feel for who is guarding him, the Clippers will persuade him to take outside shots which he fails to hit with consistency. But what makes the Thunder so dangerous is that Westbrook is not their biggest matchup nightmare for defenders.
Newly crowned MVP Kevin Durant only scored 24 points in Game1, keyword being ‘only’. He’s the most prolific scorer in the league and it’s no secret he’s probably got a few 35+ point performances in the rest of the series. The Clippers best plan might be an unorthodox one.
Reggie Bullock was a late first round pick by the Clippers in last year’s draft. His offensive ability is below average, but defensively he might be the LA’s best option when checking Durant. Matt Barnes and Danny Granger have been pretty solid collectively, but Bullock has the ability to guard elite defenders and has guarded the best player on every team he’s faced since his days in high school. Nobody expects him to stop Durant, but he plays defense a lot like Tony Allen. He’s long, physical and moves his feet very well. Considering these traits and the success Allen had checking Durant, Bullock deserves a chance.
Moving forward, the Clippers must realize that their overall success in this series will depend on their defensive performance.