The Back Story:
- January 30th, 2012 in Los Angeles - Clippers 112, Oklahoma City 100 Recap Box Score
- March 21st, 2012 in Oklahoma City - Oklahoma City 114, Clippers 91 Recap Box Score
- April 11th, 2012 in Oklahoma City - Clippers 100, Oklahoma City 98 Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
Five days ago when these teams met in Oklahoma, I led my preview with a question: Is it too much to ask for a close game between these teams? Well, I guess it wasn't too much too ask. After each home team won easily in the first two meetings in the series, the Clippers pulled off a come from behind victory in a thriller last week. The game featured an impressive Clippers comeback, a Kevin Durant three to tie the game with 30 seconds left, and a Chris Paul layup in which he literally beat four of the five Thunder defenders for the game winner with 8 seconds remaining. And I have a feeling tonight's game is going to be close as well. The Clippers should be plenty motivated, and they've been playing well at home, but the Thunder will be looking for a measure of revenge. The game means plenty in the standings. The Thunder are tied with the Spurs in the loss column and need every win in their quest for the top seed in the West. The Clippers are only two games ahead of the Grizzlies for the fourth seed (and home court advantage) in the playoffs, nor have they given up hope of catching the Lakers for the third seed. The Grizzlies have a much softer schedule than the Clippers over the final six games, so every win is vital. With four road games left against teams vying for the playoffs, the Clippers need every home win. The Clippers can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win (or with a few other things as well).
The Thunder are suddenly in a dogfight for the top spot in the Western Conference. After leading the conference for months, a mini-slump in the form of a three game losing streak last week (their only consecutive losses of the season) coupled with 11 straight Spurs wins put San Antonio into first place briefly. OKC is back on top of the conference -- kind of. The Spurs and Thunder are tied in the loss column, and the Spurs have already won the season series with no more games left between the teams. Which means that although San Antonio is mathematically a game behind in the standings at present, the Spurs control their own destiny for finishing first, while the Thunder do not. At any rate, OKC should not be lacking for motivation tonight -- with home court advantage through the Conference Finals on the line, every win matters.
- Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen Ghost Ride.
- The Questionable Blogger. Coming soon. One last session with JA Sherman of Welcome to Loud City.
- Key Thunder Metrics:
Pace: 93.1 (6th of 30)
Off Rtg: 110.0 (1st of 30)
Def Rtg: 102.9 (10th of 30)
- Key Clippers Metrics:
Pace: 89.2 (28th of 30)
Off Rtg: 108.4 (3rd of 30)
Def Rtg: 105.5 (18th of 30)
- Previous preview. These teams played each other a mere five days ago. Go back and read that preview for more background. I'll keep this one brief.
- Clinching scenarios. The Clippers can clinch a playoff spot in one of three ways tonight, and could conceivably already have their playoff spot secure before the game tips off in STAPLES Center. The most straightforward way of course would be for the Clippers to win. They also secure a playoff spot if Phoenix loses at home to Portland (which probably isn't happening). Finally, if Denver wins in Houston, that should do the trick as well, as it would put the Rockets in a situation where they can finish no better than tied with the Clippers, but they couldn't possibly win even a three or four way tie breaker after going 0-3 against L.A. this season. The best case tonight is that the Clippers win, the Mavericks lose and the Nuggets lose -- in that scenario, the Clippers would be guaranteed to finish no worse than fifth.
- Clipper wins. The two wins the Clippers have had over the Thunder this season have come in very different manners. In the first one, Durant and Restbwook combined to score 47 on 55% shooting, but the Clippers red hot three point shooting kept the Thunder out of the game all night despite the great performances by their stars. Then last week, the big two scored just 42 and shot under 30% combined. In that one, it was OKC's red hot three point shooting that kept them ahead most of the game, but the Clippers stayed close enough for Chris Paul's heroics to carry them in the end. Obviously, it's better to limit Durant and Westbrook -- but it's not always possible.
- Season series. A win tonight would give the Clippers a 3-1 edge in the season series, making them the only team to beat the Thunder three times this season. For whatever reason, the Clippers have played well against the Durant era Thunder and have never seemed intimidated by them. A win tonight would give the Clippers invaluable confidence in a potential playoff meeting with OKC, a showdown that could occur as soon as the second round of the playoffs.
- Williams. In the last game between these two teams Mo Williams did not play. He has played in the two games since and has looked good. With Williams back, Nick Young is now getting all of his minutes with two smaller guards on the floor with him, moving him over to the small forward. Bobby Simmons has dropped out of the rotation. Actually, for the first three minutes in the fourth quarter against the Warriors, Young was playing with Paul, Bledsoe and Williams, essentially playing the power forward. But that was against the Warriors, so it doesn't really count.
- First meeting. The first time these two teams met, way back in January, was one of the most highlight rich games of the season. The Clippers hit 13 three pointers in the game, including four in a row in a 50 second stretch near the end of the first half. The second was a little dunk by Blake Griffin over Kendrick Perkins. You might have seen it once or twice.
- Three point shooting. The games in this series so far have featured some unusually good three point shooting. The Clippers made 13-25 in that first game -- and the Thunder made 9-22. In the second game, the Clippers played poorly, but they still shoot well from deep, making 12-26, and the Thunder were once again 9-22. In the third game, the Clippers finally shot poorly from deep (5-16) while the Thunder were hotter than ever (12-26) -- and yet the Clippers still won. The Thunder are now 30-70 in the three games -- well above their season percentage from three. The Clippers would be advised to defend the three point line tonight. Meanwhile, if shooters like Foye, Butler, Williams and Young can hit their threes, it will definitely enhance L.A.'s odds of winning.
- Home record, road record. The Clippers are 22-9 at home while the Thunder are 19-10 on the road. That tells me the Clippers should be favored in this one. Having said that, the Clippers have road games remaining in Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta and New York -- all with better home records than the Clippers' 15-14 road record. There's a tendency to think that tonight's game against the Thunder is the toughest game left for the Clippers, but that may not be correct, particularly when compared to the second games of back-to-backs coming up.
- Bledsoe. Eric Bledsoe is one of the few guards in the league with the athleticism to contend with Wussell Restbwook, who's even more freakish than Bledsoe. Bledsoe and Paul have been surprisingly effective on the floor together in recent games. In the fourth quarter, if Bledsoe's defense is needed on Restbwook, it could present an interesting dilemma for Vinny Del Negro. Paul can defend Sefolosha, who's not much of a threat, but can he defend James Harden?
- Defending Durant. In the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City Nick Young played all but about a minute of the fourth quarter, defending Kevin Durant the entire time he was in. Durant shot just 2 for 9 from the field in the fourth. It's difficult to know how much of that was Young and how much was Durant just missing shots he usually makes, but Young was certainly staying close and deserves some credit. It's also worth noting that on two occasions in the final two minutes when the Clippers went offense-defense, it was Kenyon Martin defending Durant. That tells you that VDN thinks KMart is his best defensive matchup on Durant, but that he feels he can't afford the offensive hit of playing Martin at the three and leaving one of his shooters on the bench.
- Restbwook. Wussell Restbwook used to struggle against the Clippers. He's had six games in his career where he's shot under 10% from the field in the game, and two of those have come against the Clippers, including a 1 for 12 nightmare last season. In the last meeting between the teams last season, he finally had the first 20 point game of his career against the LAC, and then he went for 31 and 19 in the first two meetings this year. He reverted back to his Clipper struggles last week when he missed 11 of his 14 field goal attempts -- but he did get to the line 15 times, making 13.
- Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.