In a game of massive runs, unlikely heroes, and decidedly too much Paul George, the Thunder were able to gut out a 120-111 victory after the Clippers scrapped back from down 20 points in the second half to tie things at 105 with just minutes to go. Though Oklahoma City ultimately triumphed, the shorthanded Clippers showed a lot of fight as they continued to claw their way back into the game time and time again.
After jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead, the Clippers proceeded to give up a 23-4 run thanks to a barrage of turnovers that led to easy fastbreak buckets that allowed Russell Westbrook to whip the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd into a frenzy. Just when it looked as though the Clippers may have the door shut on their hopes of a victory before the end of the first quarter, they were able to work their way back into the game when Thunder coach Billy Donovan went to the bench. Clippers newcomers Willie Reed and Jawun Evans gave the Clippers a much needed lift off the pine against the Thunder second unit, and sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams scored the team’s final 8 points of the quarter, a 21-7 run punctuated with a silky-smooth, double-clutch buzzer beater to take the lead.
It was a good night for Clippers’ rookies, as Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans both looked like capable rotation players despite tough assignments on both ends of the floor. In the second quarter, Evans showed off his hustle and quickness, hounding the much, uh, heftier, Raymond Felton all the way up the court and aggressively pushing the ball ahead when the team was struggling to find open shots. He still has a long way to go when it comes to feel for the game and creating his own offense, but he impressed enough (leading the team with a +20) to surely earn more minutes as long as Milos Teodosic is sidelined. Despite a great start to the quarter from the second unit, sloppy play from the starters and some all-around great offense from Paul George (21 first half points) allowed the Thunder enough opportunities to take a 63-55 lead into halftime.
Speaking of Paul George, he started the third quarter off with a bang, drilling a three just 10 seconds in and never looked back. He took advantage of open looks from deep (4/7), made some truly difficult mid-range jumpers, and relentlessly attacked the paint, earning 15 free throws and making 12 of them. The four-time All-Star has had a relatively quiet start to the season as the Thunder’s big three have been carefully settling into their new roles, but it’s very apparent that they’re going to need this more aggressive version of George if they’re going to realize their hopes of making a deep Western Conference playoff run. The Thunder’s lead ballooned to 20 points as the Clippers’ starters continued to struggle to get anything going on the offensive end. Blake Griffin, in particular, had a difficult time getting anything going (against Carmelo Anthony on the block, no less), and the squad looked lost until Willie Reed (15 points, 8 rebounds, on 6/6 shooting) and Williams were subbed in, scoring 14 of the team’s last 17 points of the quarter and bringing them back within eight for the start of the fourth quarter.
Sweet Lou continued his torrid game (35 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, on 13/22 shooting, 6/12 from three) well into the fourth, and with some help from a gimpy Austin Rivers, who played admirably despite spraining his ankle on the last play of practice yesterday, dragged the rest of the listless Clippers’ starters to a tie ballgame with just five and a half minutes remaining. Despite the momentum shift, the Thunder held on and secured a victory helped partially by some porous defensive rebounding and unforced errors (19 total turnovers on the night) courtesy of the Clippers. In spite of the defeat, this Clippers squad, thanks to gritty performances from role players like Williams, Reed, Thornwell, and Evans, withstood run after seemingly back-breaking run and never quit. A loss is a loss, but this is one that you can live with.
- With a first quarter assist, Blake Griffin became the 6th-fastest player in NBA history to reach the 10,000 point, 4,000 rebound, 2,000 assist mark, doing it in just 482 career games. That places him behind only Oscar Robertson (384 games), Larry Bird (436), Elgin Baylor (460), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (466), and Chris Webber (469). Good company? Good company.
- As great as Willie Reed was off the bench tonight, clearly outplaying DeAndre Jordan, the Reed-Montrezl Harrell combination is one that I’d stay away from in the future. They shared the court for a stretch to begin the fourth quarter and while I appreciate the energy that Harrell plays with, having them on the floor at the same time clogs the paint offensively and creates confusion on the offensive glass. I’d opt for Sam Dekker alongside either one of them rather than the two of them together.
- Wesley Johnson was always going to be an important factor in tonight’s game given the Thunder’s wing options, but he struggled, repeatedly getting blown by on defense and only scoring 5 points on 1/4 shooting. The Clippers will need more out of Johnson in tomorrow’s game if they hope to remain competitive with Danilo Gallinari out of the lineup.
The Clippers will travel to New Orleans tonight and take on the Pelicans tomorrow at 4:00PM PST. They’ll need much more impactful performances from Blake and DeAndre if they hope to contain the oh-so-talented duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins en route to breaking the losing streak.