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NBA Playoffs Round 2 Game 4 Clippers-Thunder preview: Near-must-win

I dislike the term must-win, but this one is close. If the Clippers allow the Thunder to return to OKC with a 3-1 advantage, the series is as good as over. They must get a win today to have a reasonable chance of winning the series.

Stephen Dunn
2014 NBA Playoffs
First Round



Game 4 - May 11th, 2014, 12:30 PM
ABC, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
The Thunder lead the series 2-1
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 in Los Angeles, Thunder 118, Clippers 112
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)
Hedo Turkoglu (back) out

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:

Friday night we had the first game of this series where both teams played well. In Game 1, the Clippers were great and the Thunder were overmatched and the Clippers won easily. Game 2 was an easy win for the Thunder, as they came out sharp and easily bested a lackluster Clippers team. Friday both teams looked good, all the superstars played like superstars, and the Thunder just made more shots down the stretch to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 now becomes more or less a "must win" for the Clippers. The Clippers played well enough to win on Friday (although the defense can certainly stand to tighten up some). They need to find a way to slow down Kevin Durant -- and they need to hope that Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who are way about their season shooting numbers right now -- start to regress to the mean.

The Antagonist:

The Thunder offense depends heavily on the individual greatness of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and so far in this series they are delivering. But OKC is also getting great performances from their role players. In Game 2 Thabo Sefolosha went 6-9 with a couple of three pointers. In Game 3 Serge Ibaka only missed one shot on his way to 20 points and former Clipper Caron Butler pitched in with 14 points. If the Clippers don't figure out a way to slow down the stars but also get to the open players and contest shots, their season could be over pretty soon.

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.
  • Pajaniforms. It's Sunday, so the Clippers will be playing in their baby blue, sleeved uniforms, which I call the pajaniforms; I don't know if the Thunder will be in the navy road alternates or in white. The Clippers have been pretty good in the baby blues this season, putting together several of their biggest outbursts of the season in them, including a road win in Oklahoma City wearing them. Let's hope they remain lucky tonight.
  • The Warriors series. Just as was the case in the first round against the Warriors, the better seed lost Game 1 to lose home court advantage but then immediately won the next two in order to regain the advantage. The Clippers hope the similarities end there, since in Round 1 the rest of the series held to home court advantage and the Clippers advanced.
  • No three game losing streaks. Among the more remarkable accomplishments of the first year of Doc Rivers and the Clippers is that the team has never lost three straight games under Doc. Of course, the Clippers had also never lost when leading after three quarters at home until Friday. Still, Doc's ability to make adjustments and provide motivation has gotten the team to rise to the occasion to avoid bad patches all season -- hopefully he can do it again.
  • Griffin's break out. Blake Griffin struggled in the first two games, but he went off for 34 points in Game 3. He was able to overpower defenders, blow by them when he faced up, and make jumpers over them as well. The Clippers will need Griffin to continue to be huge if they home to come back and win this series.
  • Westbrook. Westbrook has a history of struggling against the Clippers -- but you wouldn't know it from the first three games in which he's averaged 28 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. More surprising, he's shooting almost 60 percent from the field in the series -- a very non-Westbrookian number. His pull up three looked like a terrible shot at the time, but proved to be the play of the game on Saturday. If Westbrook continues to be this hyper-efficient version of himself, the Clippers will be in trouble. But I'd say he's about due for a 5-19 game.
  • Help on Durant. Heading into the series it was a given that the Clippers didn't have any great options for defending Durant. The hope was that they could defend him by committee, starting with Matt Barnes but allowing Jared Dudley and Danny Granger to take turns on him. However, after three games it's beginning to look like Barnes is not just the best option, but more or less the only option. Neither Dudley nor Granger can stay in front of Durant, and neither can make a shot. Is Matt Barnes going to have to play 46 minutes a night because that's whtat Scott Brooks does with Durant?
  • Rebounding. The Clippers have gotten pretty thoroughly trounced on the boards in all three games of the series. They can't to continue to lose the rebounding battle and hope to advance to the Conference Finals.
  • 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.