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Clippers Fall to Thunder in Defensive Battle

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers (3-1) were dealt their first loss of the season 85-83 in a showdown against the unbeaten Thunder (4-0). Russell Westbrook had a prolific scoring performance, putting up 35 points on 14-of-30 shooting in a game that went down to the wire.

With the Thunder leading by two points, Westbrook pulled up from the left elbow and knocked down a jumper to take a two-possession lead with 18.7 seconds to go in the fourth. In a confusing sequence, the Clippers proceeded to follow up a time out with a long possession that saw Chris Paul hold the ball for almost ten seconds before passing to J.J. Redick near the hoop. An errant pass from Redick almost culminated in a turnover but Paul corralled the tipped ball and dished it to DeAndre Jordan for a layup with just three seconds remaining, bringing the deficit to two points. The Clippers let almost the full time run off the clock after the inbounds, fouling Westbrook with 0.1 seconds to go, all but guaranteeing the loss.

By and large it was a game defined by defense. The Clippers shot 39.1 percent from the field while the Thunder hit only 40.5 percent of their shots. Impressively, Westbrook was the only player to score in the double-digits for his team. Turnovers also loomed large, with Oklahoma City and Los Angeles giving the ball up 22 and 19 times, respectively.

Paul was a big part of the defensive effort for the Clippers, racking up six steals while his primary matchup, Westbrook, ended the game with with ten turnovers. Paul came within one assist of a triple-double, putting up 15 points (4-of-11) with 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Blake Griffin struggled shooting the ball, scoring 14 points on a final tally of 7-of-21 from the field. He did pull in nine rebounds with five assists, two steals, and a block, giving him a full line in the box score despite the relative shooting struggles.

Next up for the Clippers will be a showdown with the Grizzlies in Memphis on Friday at 5 PM PST. The Grizzlies are 3-2 on the season, with all of their wins coming at home and both of their losses coming on the road. Los Angeles will be looking to buck that trend to kick off the weekend.

Thoughts, Blurbs, Ideas, et Cetera

–In my preview from earlier in the day, I mentioned that the Clippers defense has been struggling in transition as well as defending at the rim. It was noticeable that the Thunder were getting good looks at the rim often, though they only won the battle for points in the paint by a margin of six, and the Clippers actually got five more fast break points. The main takeaway was that Oklahoma City had a lot of shots in the non-restricted area of the paint. On one hand, this does say a lot about DeAndre Jordan’s ability to deter drivers from attempting layups and dunks (he finished with three blocks). On the other, it feels irresponsible to treat this like it’s not a non-problem, as those are still high-percentage looks.

–After all the excitement built up around the Los Angeles bench unit over the season’s first three games, we saw a fun little adjustment made due to Oklahoma City’s big man depth. Wesley Johnson saw barely any run (he finished with 33 seconds of playing time), seeing his minutes mostly go to Brandon Bass for a bulkier look. Blake Griffin also spent considerable time with the backups to start the second quarter. This may end up being a common approach if the Clippers are facing off against teams that can stagnate two traditional big men in their rotations. For the record, the Clippers bench had another solid day, though not quite to the degree that was established leading into this game.

–Marreese Speights continued his tear of early-season efficiency, scoring another 14 points in 16 minutes. He looked particularly good in the first half next to Blake Griffin. He really is a quintessential floor-spacing big man off the bench, so putting him next to Griffin is a really exciting look (we’ve seen this pairing in every game, but tonight was a great example of what it really brings to the table). We’ve already seen what Speights can do when Jamal Crawford is drawing the defense’s attention, but when you put Griffin out there the magnetism is coupled with the fact that Speights is also then matched up with the opposition’s second-best big man. That’s a recipe for buckets.

–It was a somewhat confusing day for the “Should We Be Worried About J.J. Redick’s Percentages?” Patrol. On one hand, he went 3-of-12 from the field and missed several rather makable shots, particularly when factoring in that he is J.J. Flipping Redick. On the other hand, he went 2-of-5 from beyond the arc, which is goodnotgreat. He went 1-of-2 at the rim and missed all six of his midrange shots, so my instinct is to be annoyed but not worried. Given his track record shooting the ball, I don’t ever expect to be the person sounding the alarms unless his right arm falls off.

–Redick wasn’t the only player to struggle from midrange today. Griffin went 1-of-9 on shots outside of the paint, as is painfully demonstrated in his shot chart below. Add that to the list of small things that really could have made a difference in a game lost by two points.

–Paul left towards the end of the first quarter after taking an elbow to the face from Nick Collison, and all of Los Angeles held its breath. He returned shortly thereafter with a comically puffed out ball of (what I can only assume to be) toilet paper sticking out of his nose and the less mature among us chuckled. It’s nice when seemingly bad things turn out to be a little bit funny.

–A big shoutout to everybody that realized one of the most significant baseball games of all time was being played on another channel and said “Nah, I’d rather watch the Clippers.” #ClipsNation