Without Steven Adams, the Thunder started this game going small with Jerami Grant and Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt. They had a lot of transition opportunities in the first few minutes but struggled to convert thanks to strong contests at the rim from guards and wings.
Chris Paul made defenders look silly early on in a high pace game, but the Clippers slowly started to build a cushion as the first quarter went on, thanks to strong offense and a little bit of luck (including one Austin Rivers 3 that bounced twice high off the back iron before finally plopping in).
Although the Clippers defense was a little lazy at times in halfcourt situations, they took advantage of OKC’s sloppiness and made enough hustle plays to push the lead to 9 points by the end of the first, 34-25.
The Thunder bench was making hay early on against the second unit defense, getting offensive rebounds whenever they missed. But the Clippers mostly made it up on the other end, attacking Enes Kanter and getting good looks for the bigs inside.
Mo Speights and Brandon Bass were both eating simultaneously, but the Clippers didn’t really start to pull away until CP3 returned and the Clips went to a two-big front with Speights and DeAndre Jordan.
Suddenly, OKC was hapless against the Clippers’ explosive offense, and back-to-back threes by Speights and Austin Rivers pushed the lead to 54-40.
Unfortunately, that’s when calamity struck. As Westbrook went around a ball screen on offense, he did his patented inflatable tube man full-body flop, jumping into Chris Paul and jamming his finger. CP3 immediately went into the locker room, shouting and kicking stuff in frustration on the way.
The thought at first was that he reinjured his hamstring, then that he broke his hand like in Portland last spring. Luckily (I use that word relatively), it was announced later as “just” a left thumb sprain. He wouldn’t return to the game, and probably figures to miss a few more games out of precaution.
Surprisingly, the Clippers didn’t suffer in his absence. A Redick 4-point play bumped the lead up to 20, and DeAndre dominated the paint on both ends of the floor with no competent interior defenders to harangue him. He viciously swatted away a Kanter shot as the half ended (already his fourth block), sending the Clippers into the locker room ahead 64-47.
Raymond Felton got the start in place of CP3, and he showed out in an increased role, getting to the rim at will and picking apart the Thunder defense. Felton’s had plenty of experience with dominant dive men in the past (not one, not two, but three separate tours of duty with Tyson Chandler), and it showed as he found DeAndre over and over again for lobs and easy paint points. Felton finished 7-7 from the field with 15 points and 6 assists.
Although Russell Westbrook (who was awful in the first half) started picking up the pace a little in the third quarter, the Thunder couldn’t get the lead below 15 points. The Clippers brushed off OKC threes and calmly maintained their advantage, pushing the lead back up to 21 by the end of the third frame. Redick and Jordan sat the entire fourth quarter, while Felton only played a minute. DeAndre finished with 19 points and 15 boards, while Redick ended with 20 points.
We got a lot of extended garbage time, but there’s not much to say about it apart from Bass and Speights going to town on OKC’s backup bigs once again. Speights finished with a season-high 23 points, plus 10 rebounds.
Once again, Jamal was totally ineffective shooting the ball, injury clearly partially responsible for his slump. Unfortunately, there’s no chance for him to rest up and get better if Chris Paul will miss time.
Max Jeffrey will be along shortly with the full recap.