The way it's been going for the Clippers of late, tonight's results hardly come as a surprise.
Reminiscent of last night's game in Indiana, the Clipper starters played an inspired 1st quarter of basketball, trading punches with a very good team on the road, but quickly losing traction thereafter, attempting to mount longshot comeback attempts that were never close enough to believe in. Except tonight it was Randy Foye in the starting lineup, helping the team stay close early in place of Caron Butler, who was given the night off. Box Score
After the second non-competitive game in a row on the road, and after a brutal homestand, the bigger story of this short road trip is emerging; Vinny Del Negro's job appears to be in serious jeopardy. This could very well be a silver lining to the Clipper's recent struggles, but let's take a look at what happened in this game and get tonight's loss out of our system.
Turning some attention away from the Clippers for a minute, you had to be impressed by the Thunder tonight. This game clearly meant something "extra" to them, and it's easy to understand why, given what transpired between these two teams on January 30th. Of course, they also happen to be the class of the Western Conference and unquestioningly one of the league's top teams. What's that about poking a bear?
The Thunder's aggressiveness and energy was apparent early on, and Kendrick Perkins wasted little time getting his revenge on Blake Griffin when he earned a technical by giving Blake a hard foul, including a shot to the face early in the 1st quarter. James Harden kept the aggression going after the starters were first taken out by intercepting a pass by Bledsoe and taking it to the other end for an authoritative dunk. Bledsoe ran back to try and block the dunk, and Harden reacted to Bledsoe enough to earn a technical for taunting. Harden wasn't kidding either.
Incidentally, it was around this point in the game where I thought the game first began to get out of reach for the Clippers. Towards the end of the 1st quarter and the first five minutes of the 2nd quarter, the Clippers went from being down only 2 to being down 13 points. Just like what we saw last night in Indiana, the Clippers had some serious bench problems early on, especially (which has been noted in game threads) when Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans shared court time.
Tonight Martin was the first big off the bench, replacing DeAndre Jordan, and later on in the 1st, Reggie Evans would replace Nick Young, featuring a lineup of Martin, Griffin, Evans, Williams, and Bledsoe. Griffin and Bledsoe helped this unit tread water for a few minutes, but when Griffin was finally (first) pulled from the game after playing 14 straight minutes, the bottom really fell out. Harden's stat line may not look very impressive, but he really took over the game for the Thunder during that span, driving, creating, and hitting from outside.
- Rebounding. Reducing this game to one single factor would be simple. Thunder 49, Clippers 31. The Thunder were very aggressive on the boards to say the least, especially on the offensive glass, flashing a dominating offensive rebounding rate of 38.9% (14 out of 36 opportunities), while the Clippers claimed only 10 of their 50 opportunities for 20%
- Three Pointers. This could easily have been a 30+ point loss had it not been for the Clippers efficiency from beyond the arc tonight, making 12 of 26 attempts tonight, good enough for 46.2%, and accounting for about a third of their shots. This also speaks to OKC's perimeter D.
- With Caron Butler being given the night off, Randy Foye and Nick Young were left to guard Kevin Durant, and Durant took advantage, hitting 10-18 shots for 32 points, a few above his season average.
- After being benched in Indiana in favor of Nick Young, Randy Foye drew the start and flashed some streaky good early shooting, finishing 9-15 from the field, and 5-10 from deep for a team high 23 points. Even with all his scoring, he finished with a team worst +/- (-26) in just under 35 minutes. DJ and Nick Young were the only two Clippers to finish in positive territory (+2, and +1 respectively).
- Tough, tough homecoming for Blake Griffin. He finished 3-11 for only 7 points, and 7 rebounds. This is only the 2nd time in Blake's young career where he's failed to finish with at least ten points, and the 7 rebounds tie for his 2nd lowest output on the year. Quite possibly the most ineffective game we've seen from him. Maybe VDN should think about rationing his minutes, spreading them out more, but then he's also not trying to let the game get away early. What a tough situation.
- 9 point deficit. This was the closest the Clippers came to mounting a comeback in the 2nd half, directly after Nick Young scored 6 straight points on two possessions, and after a made KMart jumper.
- Derek Fisher debuted for the Thunder tonight, keeping his consecutive-game streak active. He didn't appear to be much of a factor on the court, though he seemed to prove he may be able to blend in and be useful for his new team come playoff time. Oh yeah, the fans loved him.
- Not so random stat of the night: The Thunder are now 12-4 on the season on the 2nd (or 3rd) night of back to back games, and 9-4 when the 2nd (or 3rd) night of a back to back included travel. The Clippers are 7-7 in back to back games to this point, 6-5 in those which have included travel.
With the loss, the Clippers stand as the #5 seed in the West, only two games ahead of Utah, currently sitting in 9th. Next comes Chris Paul's homecoming in New Orleans tomorrow night, where the Clippers desperately need a win. Rest or no rest, nothing's coming easy right now for this team lately, and tomorrow night's game promises to be very interesting indeed.