This was a pretty entertaining contest from start to finish, even if the end result wasn’t good for the Clips. Both teams started out hot, with the Clippers slowly building a lead over the 1st quarter behind some shotmaking from Paul George and Lou Williams. The Clippers’ bench, even down Williams and Landry Shamet, proved its worth, upping the defensive pressure while moving the ball. The Clippers held a small lead entering the 2nd quarter, but looked like the clearly better team.
Things continued on much the same wavelength in the next period, with the Clippers’ lead steadily growing. Derrick Walton Jr. and Rodney McGruder chipped in a couple shots, Montrezl Harrell scored around the basket, and all of a sudden the Clippers had garnished an 18 point advantage. At this point, unfortunately, the game shifted, and not in favor of the Clips. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began to attack the painted area and scored repeatedly with nifty layups and scoop shots. On the other end, the Clippers attack congealed, and they began to take an increasing number of contested jumpers. As suddenly as the lead had been constructed it had vanished, with the Thunder getting the margin all the way back down to six entering halftime.
The third and fourth quarters followed quite similar patterns: the Clippers would open up a small lead, usually based on a couple threes, and then the Thunder would shrink it. The third quarter was particularly turgid, as the Clippers could not connect on seemingly any shot attempts, but held on to a slim advantage because the Thunder were little better. The second half of the fourth quarter saw a similarly stagnant Clippers offense, with Williams and Paul George barfing up turnovers and bad shots at high volume, and the rest of the team mostly standing around. The difference, however, was that the Thunder finally seized the advantage, roasting the Clippers in one on one drives to the hoop and draining several open threes against the hitherto effective zone. Once the Thunder were up, they continued to push while the Clippers staggered, and ultimately coasted to a 118-112 victory.
Paul George Struggles: It was a night to forget for Paul George. Even though he came back to OKC with cheers and warm applause after a nice tribute rather than boos, the friendlier than expected atmosphere did not help with his play. After starting off decently, PG misfired for much of the game, finishing with an ugly 6-17 shooting line and five turnovers, several of them quite grotesque. He simply didn’t look comfortable out there, unable to find space with which to work or driving lanes to the hoop. His shooting struggles were not helped by his poor playmaking – there were quite a few times when the Thunder shaded heavily towards him, but he couldn’t find open teammates and instead either forced a bad pass late or clanked an ugly shot. It was just a rough night for George, as even his defense suffered against the quick Thunder guards. George has been great this season, but the subpar playmaking has been an issue, and it will be especially noticeable on nights when Kawhi Leonard is not playing.
Offensive Rebound Massacre: The Clippers have mostly been a strong rebounding team this season, but without Kawhi and Pat Beverley tonight they suffered, giving up an absurd 16 offensive boards to the athletic Thunder. The Clippers did not seem to be boxing out, they weren’t as energetic going to the ball, and could not contain Steven Adams. Interestingly, Ivica Zubac played only 18 minutes despite securing seven boards in the 1st quarter alone, and more of Zu might have helped with the Clippers’ defensive rebounding woes. This isn’t a big picture issue for the Clippers, as it was more related to the opponent and the injury list on this particular game, but going small has cost the Clippers at times this season, and Doc might have to avoid the Lou-Trez pairing down the stretch of games if the rebounding and defense is taking too big a hit.
JaMychal Green Returns: One of the few bright spots for the Clips was the return of (and play of) JaMychal Green, who’s missed much of the past month with a tailbone injury. Green’s defense and rebounding was big in this one, as was his outside shooting, and the Clippers could have used even more of those abilities tonight. If he hadn’t been coming off an injury he probably would have played a lot more, as he appeared fully healthy and highly effective in this one. Hopefully JaMychal is back for good this time; he’s a big piece to this Clippers team, and this game was a good demonstration as to why.
Derrick Walton Jr. Plays over Jerome Robinson: Yikes. Derrick Walton Jr. has been a really nice story over the past few weeks, his steady play at point guard helping keep the Clippers afloat with all their injuries. Still, it’s not great that he’s seeing minutes over the Clippers second-year lottery guard who they talked up all summer. This is especially true since the Clippers could really use what Jerome theoretically offers: three-point shooting and playmaking. Instead, Walton has earned the minutes over Jerome, and showed yet again tonight why that’s the case. Even though he’s small, he’s a smart and tough defender who helps the entire team with rotations, and he’s a competent outside shooter and ballhandler. If anything, the Clippers could have possibly used more of him tonight. As for Jerome… he will get more chances in a Clippers uniform, but his failure to seize the opportunities presented to him early this season is not good.
SGA Dazzles: They grow up so fast, don’t they. Just a season after being a precocious rookie helping lead the Clippers to a playoff spot, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become the leading scorer for a Thunder team that is looking to compete for a postseason slot of their own. Shai looked incredible tonight, sautéing whatever defender was in front of him with his slick handles, quick first step, and array of fakes and finishes. There was just no stopping him, and he’s now tied his career-high in points scored on back to back nights. The trade for Paul George was undoubtedly the correct decision, but Shai is a star.
Well, the Clippers don’t play again until their fateful matchup against the Lakers on Christmas. Hopefully they will have their entire squad healthy that night for the first time all season and we can see what this Clippers team is really made of.