The Back Story:
- November 3, 2010 in Los Angeles - Clippers 107, Oklahoma City 92 Recap Box Score
- February 22, 2011 in Oklahoma City - Oklahoma City 111, Clippers 88 Recap Box Score
- April 2, 2011 in Los Angeles - Clippers 98, Oklahoma City 92 Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
After the Clippers embarrassed themselves with an utter lack of effort in an April Fools' Day loss to Phoenix, the last several games of the season figured to be a meaningless exercise in end-of-the-year futility. But then the Clippers went ahead and pulled off their biggest comeback win of the season against Oklahoma City. The Clippers followed that feat with last night's victory, in which they recovered from another double-digit deficit to narrowly edge Memphis on the road. Two pretty impressive wins, if you ask me, even if they don't mean much beyond doodling on a playoff picture you're excluded from. Perhaps all that talk of building for next season won't be in vain, especially if the Clippers keep this up over the last few games. They're up against it tonight, though, because due to a scheduling quirk, they'll be playing the Thunder for the second time in four days, and in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have all but locked up the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but the guess here is that they'll be highly motivated tonight. Not only will the Thunder be out to avenge their loss in Los Angeles, they're likely still a little peeved about the five technical fouls they received in that game.
The Thunder are coming off a gutty win of their own. Behind Kevin Durant's 32 points and some staunch D from Kendrick Perkins, they snapped Denver's 10-game home winning streak with a 101-94 victory last night. Besides the Nuggets, whom they just beat, the Thunder are probably the toughest playoff matchup for the Lakers, the apparent favorites to come out of the West. The thing is, Oklahoma City's two best players, Durant and Russell Westbrook, always seem to have poor shooting games against the Clippers, of all teams. Westbrook, in particular, seems to struggle facing the Clips. He shot 1-for-12 on April 2 and was called for one of those technical fouls. I wouldn't discount him, though; he'll be playing at home tonight, and he's too good of a player not to break out of his slump against the Clippers.
- Both teams on a back-to-back. When they met in L.A. a few days ago, both teams had played the night before. Same case tonight. Getting a win in Denver may be a little tougher than getting one in Memphis, but now it's the Thunder who get to play in the comfort of their home. Regardless, that's not much of an excuse for the Clippers. They've beaten the Thunder twice already this season. Now it's time to see if they can do the same in Oklahoma City.
- Gordon. Eric Gordon was subbed out of last night's game with 5:16 left in the third quarter and never came back in. Instead, he had to watch from the bench as his backcourt partner Mo Williams led the Clippers with nine fourth-quarter points in their comeback. There was a lot of speculation last night that Gordon's wrist injury may have flared up again, keeping him out of the game, or that he had been complaining too much to the officials and not getting back on D, causing Vinny Del Negro to make the gutsy move of pulling him. Ralph Lawler tweeted after the game that Gordon didn't play in the fourth quarter because Del Negro felt the guys who got the Clippers back in the game should finish it, so it doesn't sound like an injury issue. If it was a case of Del Negro's getting fed up with whining on the court, it's still a very peculiar move to bench your best perimeter player for the final 17 minutes of the game. Maybe he wanted to send a message, but you wonder how Gordon, as mild-mannered as he is, would receive something like that. Regardless of the true motives behind Gordon's fourth-quarter absence, this is a situation to keep an eye on.
- Westbrook. Maybe the whole Gordon thing will blow over swiftly because he's done an excellent job guarding Westbrook this season. In three games against the Clippers, Westbrook is averaging 12.7 points on 23 percent shooting (his worst clip against any team). Then again, Gordon didn't play in one of those games and Westbrook still shot 3-for-11, although the Thunder did win that one, 111-88. Last night in Denver, Westbrook scored 18 points on 5-for-17 shooting, and the game before the one in L.A., he had 16 points on 5-for-15. Let's hope the Clippers can prolong his recent shooting woes. As good as Westbrook is and as often as he gets to the free-throw line, he's still far from an efficient scorer.
- Foye on Durant. As mentioned above, Durant is another Thunder star who's had his trouble against the Clippers. On Saturday, the Clippers used their three-guard lineup often, so it was mostly Randy Foye, who's at least six inches shorter, holding Durant to 23 points on 24 shots. Somehow, if Durant draws the same matchup again, I feel the Clippers aren't going to be so lucky this time around.
- Technicals. There were six technical fouls called in the third quarter of Saturday's game. The first three all came in the span of about four seconds. Then the last three occurred in a 10-second stretch several minutes later. I can't remember the last time I saw that many Ts handed out in such a short amount of time, and in such rapid succession. Fortunately, for the Clippers, five of the technicals went against the Thunder. The Clips can't count on the same kind of treatment tonight, not in Oklahoma City.
- Smith. Craig Smith had a very effective game off the bench on Saturday. In just 21 minutes, he had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go along with five rebounds. With Chris Kaman back in the lineup he probably won't get as many minutes tonight (Smith played just three minutes in Memphis), but he's still a useful guy to who can mix it up down low and, at the very least, draw fouls. Speaking of which...
- Thunder's foul-prone bigs. All four players in the Thunder's frontcourt rotation (Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed average a foull every eight minutes or so on the floor. On Saturday, Blake Griffin single-handedly fouled out Ibaka and nearly did the same to Collison. The Thunder's big men won't back down from a challenge -- that's evidenced in their high foul rates -- but there's a flip side to that. Griffin exposed it Saturday.
- Superstar for one game: Daequan Cook. This is a stretch because Cook simply doesn't get many minutes, but he's been very efficient in the ones he's gotten against the Clippers this year. In three games vs. L.A., he's shot 8-for-14 from the field, including 6-for-11 from 3-point range.
- Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.