The L.A. Clippers held off the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-108 on Friday night to improve to 8-1 on the young season. This was far from the prettiest game we’ve seen them play, but wins are wins. Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 25 points while Chris Paul contributed another double-double with 17 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers.
Russell Westbrook came close to posting another triple-double for the Thunder (29 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists), but was held to just 9-25 shooting from the floor. The Clippers were able to keep him from asserting his will offensively throughout, and had just enough juice on the offensive end to overcome ridiculous three-point shooting from OKC. The Thunder shot a blistering 57.1% (16-28) from deep in this game, with Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Westbrook each hitting at least three from long range.
The Clippers couldn’t hit anything from the floor early, starting 1-7 from the field as the Thunder built a quick 9-3 lead. Doc Rivers declined to call a timeout too early, though, which seemed to help calm things down a bit. The pace slowed to a crawl, and defense reigned supreme, as it had in the first meeting between these teams.
The offense the teams were generating was primarily coming from the role players. Victor Oladipo scored 11 of OKC’s first 15 points as Russell Westbrook started just 1-5. Three of Oladipo’s buckets came on triples as he continued his hot early season shooting from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, the Clippers were having to settle for jump shots as the Thunder’s swarming defense was effectively walling off the paint. LAC was getting open looks, they just weren’t falling. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick started a combined 3-12, which isn’t exactly a formula for success if you’re the Clips.
On the bright side, the Thunder struggled to take advantage of the ice cold shooting from L.A. The Clippers weren’t playing the kind of lockdown defense we’ve seen them playing of late, but Oklahoma City obliged by missing a slew of open looks themselves.
Despite making just 5 of 22 shots (22%!), the Clips remained very much within striking distance after one, trailing 24-16. The Thunder shot just 39% themselves, and no player from either team other than Oladipo contributed more than four points in the frame.
The second quarter got off to a much better start for the road team as Jamal Crawford and Wesley Johnson nailed back-to-back triples. Westbrook returned to the game ahead of the nine-minute mark after picking up two early fouls, with Raymond Felton checking him defensively.
Enes Kanter was giving the LAC backups fits, as he was all over the glass on both ends and Marreese Speights struggled to keep him away from the rim defensively. The Clippers were able to find their way to the rim with decent consistently, but they couldn’t make a layup to save their lives.
Sensing a rare lack of energy from the bench, Rivers opted to bring all five starters back into the game around the seven minute mark in an effort to try and provide a spark.
A three from Andre Roberson extended the Thunder lead to 37-30 about midway through the frame before Steven Adams picked up a foul on Redick. That made him the fourth OKC starter to pick up a pair of fouls ahead of halftime. Given the fact that the jumpers weren’t falling and several Thunder players were facing foul trouble, this gave the Clippers a perfect opportunity to be even more aggressive in attacking the bucket.
On cue, LAC started to click offensively. Consecutive buckets by Redick, Jordan, Griffin and Paul closed the deficit to just two at 40-38, forcing a timeout from Billy Donovan. The Thunder got a quick five points from Roberson (???) following the stoppage, but a Redick long ball knotted things at 45 with about two minutes to play in the half. The energy on both ends was noticeably better than it had been through the first 18 minutes or so.
Another triple from J.J. finally gave the Clips their first lead of the game shortly thereafter, but Westbrook immediately countered with a three of his own to seesaw the Thunder back on top. A slam from Griffin in the waning seconds of the half squared things up at 50, and the teams entered the half all tied up.
Both star point guards essentially canceled each other out over the first 24 minutes. The Clippers did a fine job of keeping Westbrook (seven points, 3-11 shooting) in check, but CP3 had just six points and three assists of his own. L.A. had to have been thrilled to go into the half tied up considering their lackluster play early on.
The crisp offense we saw from the Clippers in the latter stages of the first half continued early in the third. Griffin swished a wide open jumper before Mbah a Moute drove baseline for a two-handed dunk. Yes, Luc dunked. I saw it happen. What a time to be alive.
Roberson found himself wide open from deep and made the Clippers pay yet again, hitting his third three in as many attempts. This marked the first time in his brief career that he made more than two three-pointers in a game, which was a perfect indicator of the weirdness of this game.
Jordan and Westbrook traded technical fouls as the game started to intensify. L.A. started to pull away, though, and another Redick three from the corner gave them their biggest lead of the night at 65-56 about halfway through the third.
Roberson mercifully missed a three, causing Westbrook to clatter into CP3 in an attempt to get the offensive rebound. That was Russell’s fourth foul of the game, but he remained out there.
Blake started to get cooking in the third, repeatedly diving to the bucket and finishing the way Blake Griffin does. A miraculous Sabonis three at the death of the shot clock brought OKC to within four before Griffin’s 12th and 13th points of the frame put the Clips back up six. Paul then hit a dagger of a three before another Griffin bucket gave Los Angeles its first double-digit lead of the night.
After three, the road team held an 82-74 advantage.
The fourth began with five reserves on the floor for the Clippers. Jerami Grant hit a three to kick things off, bringing the three-pointer total to 10 on the night between, Grant, Sabonis, Roberson and Oladipo for OKC. This isn’t what you mean by saying “let anyone but Westbrook beat you.”
Another three, this one by Semaj Christon, cut the Clips’ lead to just one at 83-82 early in the frame. Wesley Johnson then made the defensive play of his life, swatting what appeared to be an easy layup for Christon on the break into the stands.
Crawford’s offense was really the only thing keeping the Clippers’ heads above water at this point, so Rivers deployed the full starting five at the 5:44 mark in the period. Donovan countered with the little-used Nick Collison, who immediately hacked Jordan upon his arrival. D.J. made the strategy pay off, unfortunately, as he missed five of six attempts from the stripe. OKC wanted to foul Jordan again, but didn’t get a whistle as Paul pulled up and drained a three that restored a five-point Clipper lead at 97-92.
Rivers was ready to pull the plug on Jordan, but had an apparent change of heart and left him out there instead of replacing him with Speights with about four minutes left. The Thunder continued to hack, but D.J. rewarded his coach’s faith by hitting five of six free-throws to put Lawler’s Law into effect at 102-94.
OKC decided to bail on the strategy in light of Jordan suddenly looking like Redick at the line, and promptly closed the gap to 102-99 after a Griffin turnover followed by an Oladipo triple.
A Westbrook three tied things up once again before Chris Paul happened. He brilliantly found Jordan wide open underneath the hoop for an easy flush and then delivered a strike of a pass to Crawford above the arc, who promptly nailed a huge three-ball to put L.A. back up 109-104 with less than 50 seconds left.
Austin Rivers had a chance to effectively put the game on ice after stealing the ball and getting fouled, but missed both free throws. Westbrook got the ball on the break and quickly scored, giving the Thunder life once again as they trailed by just three. Paul then missed his patented elbow jumper, giving the Thunder a chance to tie it with 14 seconds.
Mbah a Moute fouled Westbrook before the Thunder got the chance to put up a game-tying three, making the game a foul shooting contest once again. OKC had a chance to tie or win it after Jamal missed one of two from the line, but Westbrook jacked an ill-advised three with about five seconds to go. He missed, Crawford got the rebound and the Clippers snuck away with a 110-108 win.
A hallmark sign of an elite team is being able to beat good opponents when you aren’t at your best, and the Clippers managed to win despite not operating at peak capacity for most of the night. The Thunder were able to hang around by virtue of their hot shooting, but the Clips were the more composed team down the stretch.
Crawford played what was easily his best game of the season, scoring 19 points on excellent 7-11 shooting from the floor. The rest of the reserves struggled, though, combining for just 14 points on just 5-18 shooting.
Oklahoma shot just 43.2% from the floor tonight, which was actually the second-best shooting performance any opponent has had against the Clips so far this season. That just goes to show how stingy LAC has been in the early going.
Los Angeles now owns the best record in the league at 8-1. They won’t have much time to rest, though, as they’ll be right back at it tomorrow night in Minnesota to take on the young Timberwolves.