Although Game 1 was not played on Los Angeles' home court, the Clippers nonetheless borrowed a page from STAPLES marketing: that was easy. After Oklahoma City ran off nine straight points early in the first quarter to take a 16-10 lead, Doc Rivers did something he doesn't do very often and took a quick timeout. Whatever he said in the huddle worked in spades, because the Clippers scored the next eight points to take the lead, finished the quarter on a 29-9 run, and never looked back on their way to a 17 point victory in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.
Chris Paul was the indisputable star of the game, and he set the tone early. He made five three pointers in the first quarter alone, without a miss, and finished the quarter with 17. And while 5-5 from deep (he would actually go on to make his first eight treys before finally missing one) may not be sustainable across a seven game series, with with just one exception (nasty step back three to end the first quarter) these were open looks that Paul needs to take, especially the way he's been shooting. The Thunder defense was giving him that shot, and he made them pay.
The Thunder will be better than they were tonight in the rest of the series, but they have ample reason to be very, very concerned, because the Clippers absolutely dissected their defense. Oklahoma Ctiy appeared to have no clue -- none whatsoever -- how to to defend the center pick and roll, and it's not like they didn't get enough chances, because the Clippers ran it over and over. It consistently yielded either an open look for Paul, or plenty of space down the lane for Blake Griffin, or the high-low lob from Griffin to DeAndre Jordan.
As the Clippers were getting almost any shot they wanted on offense, their defense was making things very difficult for the Thunder. It's a major over-simplification to say that against the Thunder Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are almost bound to get their points, but if you can stop the rest of a very mediocre lineup, you can still win. An over-simplification, that nonetheless has truth to it. Durant scored 25 points in 35 minutes; Westbrook scored 29 points in 30 minutes. Neither played the final 11 minutes as Scott Brooks waved the white flag early. But beyond the stars, the Thunder got a workmanlike 12 from Serge Ibaka and a whole lot of nothing from everyone else.
Of course, there were times when the Thunder looked out of sorts against the Grizzlies in the first round as well and they managed to come back to win the series. But one definitely gets the impression that if things aren't going well, Brooks is not going to be very good at making in game adjustments. Plenty of NBA coaches can put together a decent game plan heading into a game -- it's the ones who can make effective adjustments during a game in progress who are the real difference makers. One does not get the feeling that Scott Brooks is that guy. I really think that in games where the Clippers find an advantage they can exploit, the Thunder will have difficulty doing anything about it. Brooks' best strategy in Game 1 was to make his team's ugly outing even uglier by employing the Hack-the-DJ strategy for two minutes in the third quarter of a game that was already lost. Nice.
What is the significance of this win? Does it show that the Clippers, with the Donald Sterling scandal truly behind them, are ready to rip through the rest of the playoffs? Maybe. Does it mean that the Thunder are a limited team that can be beaten with a solid game plan? Perhaps. All that is speculation. What is not speculation is that the Clippers have already stolen home court advantage, in emphatic fashion, from the team that barely held them off in the regular season standings. After 82 games, the Thunder secured the home court advantage in this series on the final day of the regular season -- but it only took one game for the Clippers to take it away from them.
Paul finished the game with 32 points in 28 minutes on 12-14 shooting, including those eight three pointers. He also handed out 10 assists. Basically, Oklahoma City had absolutely no answer for him. It is the only time since 1986 (and probably the only time ever, but the data is not searchable before 86) that a player has scored 30 or more points and handed out 10 or more assists in 30 or fewer minutes.
Of course, Game 2 won't be this easy. Or will it?
Mark Travis will have more from Oklahoma City tomorrow.