NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 3 Clippers-Thunder preview: Home court advantage?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers-Thunder series comes to Los Angeles all tied at one game apiece. The Clippers can win the series by winning the remaining games on their home court, beginning tonight; but that's easier said than done.

2014 NBA Playoffs
First Round
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vs

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57-25

59-23
Game 3 - May 9th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
ESPN, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
The series is tied 1-1
Game 1 - Mon May 5 in Oklahoma City, Clippers 122-Thunder 105
Game 2 - Wed May 7 in Oklahoma City, Thunder 112-Clippers 101
Game 3 - Fri May 9, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 4 - Sun May 11, 12:30 p.m., ABC, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 5*  Tue May 13, Time TBD, TNT, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena
Game 6*  Thu May 15, Time TBD, ESPN, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 7 * Sun May 18, Time TBD, TNT, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
21-9 East 23-7
36-16 West 36-16
34-7 Home 34-7
23-18 Road 25-16
25-18 .500+ 27-16
32-7 .500- 32-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
J.J. Redick SG Thabo Sefolosha
Matt Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves
Darren Collison PG Derek Fisher
Jamal Crawford SG Reggie Jackson
Jared Dudley SF Caron Butler
Danny Granger PF Nick Collison
Glen Davis C Steven Adams
Advanced Stats 2013-2014 Regular Season
98.39 (7th of 30) Pace 98.53 (6th of 30)
109.4 (1st of 30) ORtg 108.1 (7th of 30)
102.1 (7th of 30) DRtg 101.0 (5th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Hedo Turkoglu (back) out
None

The Back Story (The teams split the season series 2-2):

Date Venue Final

11/13/13 Los Angeles Clippers 111, Thunder 103 Recap Box
11/21/13 Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Clippers 91 Recap Box
02/23/14 Oklahoma City Clippers 125, Thunder 117 Recap Box
04/09/14 Los Angeles Thunder 107, Clippers 101 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

As sharp as the Clippers were in Game 1, that's how mediocre they were in Game 2. Overall, you have to be happy about a split in Oklahoma City since all the Clippers have to do now to win the series is defend their home court. But the first two games were such polar opposites that it's difficult to take much away from them about the series going forward. Which Clippers team will show up in LA? Which Thunder team will we see? When you consider that neither Blake Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan have been at their best in the series you begin to feel quite fortunate to have won a game on the road. The Clippers offense picked OKC apart in Game 1, but the length of the Thunder defenders proved to be a big problem in Game 2 as they got deflections and steals and disrupted all of the things that had worked so well the first time around. Still, the Clippers have a lot of weapons, and they just weren't sharp in Game 2 -- if they can execute their offense well, they're going to get good shots, because it's difficult to take everything away, even with OKC's length. If Griffin can get something going with the home crowd behind him, the Clippers should be fine.

The Antagonist:

It's hard to believe that we watched the same team Monday and Wednesday. The Thunder allowed the Clippers to score 100 points through three quarters in Game 1, but took over Game 2 in the third with their pressure defense. Russell Westbrook was a Tasmanian-Devil-whirlwind of activity in Game 2, getting steals, crashing the offensive glass, and basically throwing his body into anything and everything. When he plays like that anything can happen, and in Game 2 it turned out all good for the Thunder. But while one would hope to limit Westbrook and Durant to something below 30 point triple doubles (they came close to having the first such triple doubles in NBA playoff history) at the same time you expect them to put up numbers. It's 14 points from the likes of Thabo Sefolosha -- tying a season high -- that really hurts.

The Subplots

  • Series preview. Be sure to revisit the series preview which contains some of the overarching points for the series. I won't repeat those points here.
  • Keys to the series. Be sure to check out Mark Travis' Keys to the Series post for his insights. Mark will be attending all of the games in Oklahoma City covering it for Clips Nation, so he'll be bringing us on site reporting from Oklahoma throughout the series.
  • Griffin's struggles. Blake Griffin was an unstoppable force in Games 2 and 3 of the first round series; in the six games since, he's been pretty stoppable. In two games against the Thunder, Griffin has shot 12-29 and grabbed 11 total rebounds. Is it a coincidence that Griffin has been held below 50% shooting in four of the six games since the Sterling story broke? Is he perhaps still a bit more distracted than we would hope? Serge Ibaka has always done a good job on Griffin, he always makes him work and he (obviously) always plays him very physical. Blake needs to take Ibaka away from the basket, face him, use his quickness and make plays against him. It should be noted that in Game 1, even though Griffin didn't shoot real well, he was a terrific playmaker in the center pick and roll. Backing down Ibaka is not going to work very often. Blake needs to use his full range of skills in that matchup.
  • Sustainability. Chris Paul scored 32 points on 14 shots in Game 1. Russell Westbrook had a (dubious) triple double in Game 2 while making a slew of jump shots. The first two games were more or less decided by the amazing performances of those two individuals. But which team has the advantage when they both play well, but not ridiculously so?
  • Westbrook. Westbrook has a history of struggling against the Clippers -- but you wouldn't know it from the first two games in which he's averaged 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. More surprising, he's shooting 61 percent from the field in the series -- a very non-Westbrookian number. If Westbrook continues to be this hyper-efficient version of himself, the Clippers could be in trouble. But I'd say he's about due for a 5-19 game.
  • Granger and Dudley. Kevin Durant has sat out about three minutes in the first half of each of the first two games. He would almost certainly have played the entire second half of each had the games been close. Scott Brooks has every intention of playing Durant about 45 minutes per game if necessary, if not more. The Clippers don't have a great defensive option to put on him, but in theory they can put a few different guys out there and keep those guys fresh. Matt Barnes certainly isn't going to play 45 minutes. Danny Granger and Jared Dudley are the next options against Durant, but both have struggled mightily lately. Granger is one for his last 15 in the playoffs and can't buy a three pointer right now. Dudley was completely out of the rotation in the first round; he was 0-4 in Game 2 against the Thunder, and the misses were all pretty ugly. If one or both of these guys -- who were supposed to be key acquisitions when they first joined the team bear in mind -- can rise above the level of useless on the offensive end, it's going to make a big difference.
  • Rebounding. As great as everything was on Monday there was one dark cloud in Game 1 -- the Clippers got killed on the boards. Then they got killed on the boards again Wednesday in losing Game 2. The Thunder have grabbed 16 more rebounds in each of the first two games, and they've pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in each. It's not as if OKC was a terror on the offensive glass in the season -- they were sort of middle of the pack. But the Clippers have struggled off and on protecting their defensive glass all season and they're going to have to do a better job. In Game 2 Russell Westbrook was everywhere and part of his huge impact on the game came in the form of six offensive rebounds. Chris Paul isn't used to defending someone who is crashing the offensive boards like Westbrook, but he's going to have to get a body on Westbrook going forward.
  • DeAndre. After being arguably the best player on the court in the Golden State series, DeAndre Jordan has been very quite in the first two games of the second round, especially in the aforementioned department of rebounding. He averaged over 15 boards per game against the Warriors -- he had 13 total rebounds in the two games in Oklahoma. Part of that is simply minutes -- the Clippers won Game 1 easily and Jordan didn't play the fourth quarter, while foul trouble limited his court time in Game 2. But even on a per minute basis, Jordan's rebounding is way down. The Warriors played small a lot, and Kendrick Perkins presents a different obstacle than David Lee, but Jordan was a force in Round 1 and the Clippers need him to be a force again.
  • Connections. Blake Griffin was born and raised in Oklahoma near Oklahoma City and played his college ball at OU in Norman. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was on the Clippers for about a month in January 1999, though he never got into a game. Former Clipper Ryan Gomes began the season with the Thunder, while former OKC player Byron Mullens began the season with the Clippers, but both are now gone. In Gomes' place is another recent Clippers small forward, Caron Butler. Chris Paul played his first two seasons in Oklahoma City while the Hornets were displaced from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook were teammates at UCLA, where Collison started at the point pushing Westbrook to shooting guard. Doc Rivers coached Kendrick Perkins at Boston, where they won a title together and might have won another had Perkins not torn his ACL in the playoffs.
  • Get the OKC perspective at Welcome to Loud City.
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