A lot of things went right for the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday night, most notably a whole lot of three pointers fell. A lot of things went wrong for them on Wednesday.
After hitting their first four three points of the game, they suddenly went very cold from deep, making just 5-23 the rest of the way. They had foul trouble, with both Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan having their minutes curtailed because of fouls -- in Paul's case, sitting out after about five minutes with two fouls that were beyond mysterious. And they got bad/terrible games from two of their top three scorers, as Blake Griffin (5-13) and Jamal Crawford (2-13) struggled to score. On the other hand, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both had otherworldly good games. It all added up to a loss, sending the best-of-seven series back to Los Angeles tied one game apiece.
That's pretty good of course. It's now a best-of-five series from this point, with the Clippers hosting three of the five remaining games. The Clippers will certainly take that. But this game was actually pretty close to going the Clippers way.
Los Angeles weathered the storm in the first quarter, which is what they needed to do. After Kevin Durant accepted his first MVP award in a pre-game ceremony, a day after his emotional acceptance speech energized his teammates and the entire city, the Thunder figured to come out pumped up a mile high, which they did. Shortly after Paul went to the bench with his second foul (the first one called by Monte McCutcheon with his eyes closed as Westbrook, Paul and the ref all thee came together on a loose ball and the second called by David Jones on a play in which Paul literally did not touch Durant) Oklahoma City went on a 11-0 run to take a seven point lead. When the first quarter ended with the Thunder up nine, I figured the Clippers actually felt OK, all things considered. They weren't out of the game, and Paul had yet to score.
Indeed, Paul returned to the court to open the second quarter and the Clippers almost immediately got right back into the game. Less than midway through the quarter they'd cut the lead to three. With four minutes left in the half, they took the lead. They'd withstood a strong Thunder push, pushed back and even taken the lead. Surely they'd take the game at this point.
It was not to be. A six-zero OKC run to close the first half followed by a decisive third quarter in which the Thunder outscored the Clippers 33-20 decided the game. With Durant providing what you would expect and Westbrook playing as well as I've ever seen him play, the Clippers needed all of their weapons in order to compete, and neither Griffin nor Crawford were on their games. So the Clippers will have to be content with the split.
Durant and Westbrook finished with remarkably similar lines: 32 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for KD, 31 10 and 10 for Russ (although his triple double is more than a little tainted by a ridiculous decision from the official scorer for his final assist). They each took just 22 shots to get their 30 point nights, a relatively commonplace level of scoring efficiency for Durant, but much more surprising from Westbrook. I'm almost willing to concede the series if Westbrook is going to make 8-13 on jump shots. It doesn't happen often, and when it does he pretty much unstoppable. Luckily, my concessions won't come into play, since he's not going to hit so many jumpers going forward. (There's a school of thought that it is a good thing for the Clippers for Westbrook to hit so many shots in Game 2 -- the Clippers are happy to allow him to take those shots compared to what else he could be doing, and if falls in love with jump shots in all or part of the rest of the series it could bode well for the Clippers.)
The series shifts to LA now, and the next two games will be huge. If the Clippers can manage to defend their home court and win both, they'll have three chances to close out the series after that, putting OKC in an extraordinarily difficult situation. If however the Thunder can steal one on the Clippers home court, they will regain the upper hand.
The Clippers will need their home crowd behind them on Friday in Game 3 -- but they'll also need Blake Griffin to play better.