The Clippers started off the game well, with Chris Paul hitting a 3 pointer on the first possession, a commonplace occurence. Matt Barnes followed suit a minute later, and the Clippers defense was good off the bat. The Thunder could seemingly not get offense of any sort going, and turnovers were forced every other trip down the floor. Meanwhile, the Clippers were getting into the paint on offense and either dishing inside for layups or to open shooters for 3. Enes Kanter and Russell Westbrook had a few offensive rebounds to keep the Thunder in it, but their starting lineup was ineffective on both ends. Spencer Hawes picked up two fouls, but Big Baby Davis filled in for him admirably on both ends. The Thunder started creeping up due to their bench play, and a super deep 3 by Westbrook brought the deficit down to 6.
With both benches in to start the 2nd quarter, the quality of play took a noticeable nosedive. Austin Rivers had a nice take to the rim, but the Clippers were unable to score or get stops consistently. Meanwhile Anthony Morrow and Nick Collison (!) hit three balls, but the Thunder were unable to really capitalize on the Clippers' bench, resorting to chipping away slowly. Enes Kanter and DeAndre kept going hard at each other, getting offensive boards and putbacks, but not stopping one another. Thus the Clippers' starters couldn't come back soon enough, and immediately made a difference, with Redick converting a gorgeous and-one off a CP3 dish. The next few minutes involved some beautiful play by the Clippers backcourt, with Redick and Paul dishing and shooting at an equal clip and creating many open looks. Unfortunately, Thunder wing Anthony Morrow made 4 threes to counter, including an absurd shot from 30 feet out falling away over two defenders. This back and forth continued until halftime, with Westbrook still being bottled up by CP3 and DJ.
Scott Brooks came back with his starting lineup after halftime, a poor decision that cost him the game. The awful wing combo of Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler couldn't do much of anything on either end, as Redick and Paul continued to dazzle, now joined by Matt Barnes. There was much passing, and shooting, and playing of defense, and the lead grew and grew. Suddenly the Clippers were up 20, and the Thunder looked increasingly frustrated. Westbrook made a 3, but it was sandwiched by a pair of Austin Rivers jumpers. Once again, the Thunder bench helped make a bit of a push, boosted by an awful call by Joey Crawford on a Westbrook 3, where he kicked his leg out at Paul. As he did the entire night, however, Paul came right back and drew free throws on Morrow.
The 4th quarter seemed to take forever, as both teams started off cold, and then the game devolved into what my dad calls Flay-the-DJ (or Rob the Lob), as the Thunder intentionally fouled DeAndre numerous times. He was unable to convert at the beginning, but the Thunder just couldn't score on the Clippers' defense on the other end, and the lead remained in the mid teens. Westbrook returned, but that didn't help, as he had several straight possessions of horrible shots or turnovers. DJ continued to miss, but it continued to not matter. On trips where Jordan wasn't fouled, Paul converted, as he remained completely unstoppable. Eventually, DJ made 4 FTs in a row, and the game effectively ended when Westbrook sat with 3 minutes left in the game.
Chris Paul- I can't overstate just how good the Point God was in this game. He finished the game with 33 points on 19 shots, making five threes in the process. He had a relatively high assist/turnover ratio of 9/4, which was still far superior than the ratio of his counterpart. More importantly, he played superb defense on Westbrook, continually turning him away from the basket, forcing turnovers, and strangling his shots. He was the real MVP tonight, and if he wasn't in the average NBA viewer's MVP race, he probably is now. Deservingly so. Even for Chris Paul, tonight was exceptional.
Barnes and Redick- The two Clippers starters on the wing combined for 47 points, making 11 threes and going a perfect 14-14 from the line. They also played solid defense for the most part outside of the Anthony Morrow first half eruption. Redick even dished out 9 assists, mostly to Paul for jumpers. They might not be super glamorous names, and the Thunder wings are by no means world beaters, but JJ and Matt were tremendous tonight.
Shutting down Russell- Russell Westbrook came in as the hottest player in the NBA, but the Clippers defense lead by Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan kept him mostly ineffective. He still had a 24/9/7, but he had 10 turnovers to his seven assists, and shot only 5-14 from the field. The defense was so good he was unable to even get many shots up, though he did draw 13 free throws. It was an incredible job on an amazing player, though Westbrook isn't helped by playing with a complete non-shooter in Andre Roberson.
Another DJ foulfest failure- Scott Brooks resorted to the tried and largely failed method of fouling DJ in order to make up a deficit in the fourth quarter, and once again it didn't work. DJ finished 12-22 from the line, a solid night for him, but most importantly, the Thunder just weren't doing anything to make up the difference themselves. DJ was also splendid tonight, preventing Westbrook from getting to the rim much, contesting his shots if he did make it there, and grabbing up 17 boards.
Scott Brooks- The Thunder coach stuck with his starting lineups way too long in both the 1st and 3rd quarters, and it cost him. Andre Roberson had a -25 in 11 minutes, and Singler was at a -17 in 15 minutes. They went 0-4 from the field, scored 2 points, and didn't even play good defense. Meanwhile, everyone on the Thunder bench was in the + region. This was partly because they were matched up more against the awful Clippers bench, but still. Collison, Adams, and Morrow were all notably more effective than the starters playing ahead of them. Brooks also insisted on the hack a DJ approach when it seemed to be neutering his own offense as much as it did the Clippers'.
Clippers Bench- In sad comparison, everyone on the Clippers bench was in the negative, though mostly not too much. Robinson couldn't make shots or do stuff in general again, while Davis played very well filling in for the foul plagued Hawes. Because the starters played so well the bench didn't really matter, but Crawford is needed back in the worst way.
Looking Ahead- As Steve mentioned in his post earlier today, the Clippers' schedule is about to lighten up significantly, and if Blake and Jamal come back relatively quickly and remain healthy, a huge run can be expected to close out the season. Their next game is on Friday against the reeling Mavericks before returning home for the Rockets and Hornets. None of those will be easy, but the Clippers should be favorites in all three.
This was a great win, and Chris Paul should be in the MVP race. No ands, ifs, or buts.