LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 16: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks over Thabo Sefolosha #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on April 16, 2012
In a riveting and action packed conclusion to the season series between the Clippers and Thunder, the Clippers come out victorious in grand fashion tonight, claiming the win and season series three games to one over a team who many consider the best in the NBA.
Unlike most Clipper victories on the season, this was a win that brought serious satisfaction to the fans, and maybe even a few critics, as the Clippers really poured it on late featuring a balanced attack and making for what could have easily been their most authoritative win on the year. In the process, the Clippers clinch a playoff berth for the first time since the 05-06 season. (Box Score)
While it was great to clinch a playoff spot tonight, clinching really took a back seat to the game itself, and what a win could do for the Clippers confidence and in securing home court advantage in the first round. The point is, if you're a Clipper fan who for some reason didn't get a chance to watch tonight's game, go get that fixed Asap, because this was an instant classic. Or at least as about as classic and important as it can get in the regular season against a team other than the Lakers.
In the early going, the Clippers showed us a very mortal and almost typical version of themselves, with Chris Paul off to a slow start and with some guys (namely Nick Young and Randy Foye) having to make plays in order to keep us in the game against a top team. In fact, it was eerily similar to the win in OKC where we stayed in contact with them just enough to mount a late comeback, not letting the lead grow larger than 11 points. Well actually, in that respect it was the exact same story tonight, as the Thunder lead stretched out to 11 points on at least a couple of occasions in the first half without ever exceeding it. For every run the Clippers would work hard to make, the Thunder would storm back in quick bursts to get it back to or near double digits. Especially frustrating was the close of the 2nd quarter, where the Clipper deficit went from 4 to 9 in the final minute, finally trailing 52 to 43 at the half on 37% shooting to OKC's 44%.
It would've been real interesting to hear what was said in the Clippers locker room at half time, because after a frustrating first half of basketball, the Clippers showed us another dimension in outscoring the Thunder 49 - 25 from there on out. From about the 2nd minute of the second half, you could sense the Clippers weren't just trying to put a dent in the lead, they were looking to do some damage of their own, as they started the 3rd quarter on a 9 - 1 run. The Thunder would respond, but only after Blake Griffin was forced from the game due to a cut that wouldn't stop bleeding. It was at that point where the Thunder big men, and especially Serge Ibaka dominated the boards, grabbing consecutive offensive rebounds for instant put-backs, except that was about all the Thunder could manage in the 3rd, and for the rest of the way. After Griffin was reinserted back in the game, the Clippers got their momentum back on the strength of some hot shooting from Nick Young, who scored a team high 19 points on only 10 shots. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the game was tied at 66 and the crowd was in such a frenzy that on the last possession, Nick Young missed a chance to set Staples on fire with a corner three.
The 4th quarter was a great show of energy, shot-making and defense by the Clippers, and as mentioned above, definitely must see stuff. In holding the Thunder to only eleven 4th quarter points, you also have to wonder if OKC started to show their weakness in settling for too many outside shots, especially three pointers. Anyway, here's the dunk that stretched the lead to 10.
On the night, the Thunder shot just 5 of 22 from deep, and most of those makes were in the first half. In pure field goal percentage, perhaps no stat jumps out as much as the 2nd half shooting numbers, with the Thunder shooting just 29% to LAC's 52%. Hopefully, this is a harbinger of things to come for the Clippers defensive potential to close the regular season and into the playoffs.
On the offensive end, this was definitely a coming out party for Nick Young in what was easily his best game as a Clipper. He shot 7 of 10 from the field, and 3 out of 4 from deep (he threw up zero's everywhere else on the stat sheet, but who cares?). His versatility and ability to play small forward might be his best attribute to the Clippers, as Caron Butler has had bouts with inconsistency, and with the team really needing Bledsoe to get as many minutes as possible in a crowded back-court, Young's flexibility is a huge asset.
- Blake Griffin's final numbers may not be overly impressive; shooting 7 of 15 for 17 points and 11 rebounds, but the 6 assists and 4 blocks help show just how big of an effect he had on the game. The "thunderous" dunks he threw down to extend the lead to double digits deep in the 4th quarter were larger than life points, and just to highlight the hustle he showed tonight, there was a sequence in the 2nd quarter where he made a nice defensive stand against Westbrook on a drive, then quickly boxed out Perkins for the rebound, before pushing the ball all the way up court himself to find Kenyon Martin for a layup. While were on Blake, I like him playing less minutes like he did tonight at 34:44, keeping him fresh with enough left in the tank to close out games is something VDN should insist on.
- Jump Shooting Trio: Young, Williams, and Foye shot a combined 16 of 29 from the field, and 8 of 12 from deep, for an effective FG% of 71.7% with free throws included. If we can harken back our memories to the early part of the year when our three point shooting really helped us gain some separation from some good teams, including the first game against the Thunder, maybe we can see this come back to life with Nick Young taking over for Chancey.
- Not a great game for Chris Paul, which might make tonight's win all the more impressive. 5 of 12 from the field, with only 1 of 5 from deep was a little disappointing, but his 10 assists and court leadership were again undeniable.
- Bledsoe only played 13 minutes, but managed 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block. He's got to be near the top in rebounds/ minute for guards. Oh yeah, his one FGM was a pretty key putback on one of the few Nick Young misses. Here's the highlight.
- Good to have Mo back. There had been some speculation that maybe we're better without Mo due to all the winning, but after winning a few in a row with him back, it's safe to say he's not hurting the team. He's kind of like a small Nick Young with play-making ability. He's at his best when he can limit his turnovers (he had 4 assists against 0 turnovers) and hit open shots, especially three's, which he made 2 of 4. In the 4th, Chris Paul found him and he delivered. It should also be said Mo probably has the most playoff experience on the team from his days playing with LeBron and the Cavs.
- Westbrook's power outage. For the first time this year, and only the 2nd time this season, Russell Westbrook failed to reach double digits in scoring, which is pretty damning for OKC, who rely on both Durant and Westbrook to score big every night.
- Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 1 for 12 three pointers.
- Thunder had no player record more than 3 assists. As a team, they tallied 12 assists to 19 turnovers, while the Clippers had 21 assists to 13 TO's.
- Rebounding wound up pretty well even, though LAC finished with 46 to OKC's 42.
- Defense. To start the game, the Thunder had a pretty clear plan to keep Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out of the middle, which was working very well early on, and really this game could have had a completely different outcome had Foye not made a couple quick threes in the first. After that, Young and Williams stretched the defense with their shooting, and the Clippers mixed in some fast break and quick pace opportunities, and of course all of this opened up the bread and butter pick & roll to Blake for dunks. On the other side of the ball, the Clippers played a lot of zone, and really gave OKC a taste of their own medicine by daring them to make outside shots in the 2nd half, and closing out well on shooters. Most of all though, I think we saw what our defense could look like with Blake Griffin making it a priority. 4 blocks ties a career high for him.