Round 2, Game #1 | May 5, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena | Oklahoma City, OK
OKLAHOMA CITY – Even with less than 48 hours between the conclusion of Game 7 of round one and the opening tip of round two, the Clippers were breathing fresh air again.
Gone was the bitterness of their series against Golden State. Gone was the turmoil that followed them for a week from L.A. to Oakland and back. And gone was any disbelief or distrust.
The newly dialed in Clippers buried the Oklahoma City, 122-105, in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal series on Monday.
It was arguably one of their finest first halves of the season, including a 78-point performance against the Rockets in November. The Clippers, facing the league’s third best field goal defense, rocked the Thunder by making 26 of their 46 first half shots, including going 9-for-16 from 3-point range. They finished 15-for-29 (51.7 percent) from distance, setting a new franchise postseason record for makes.
“We moved the ball,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “We shared the ball. We were really good with our spacing… Tonight we just had one of those nights where the ball found the open guy every single time.”
Chris Paul was the masterful artist, using both brush and blade to canvas Chesapeake Energy Arena with his vision. He had 32 points and 10 assists, including making his first eight 3-pointers, setting a new career high and franchise postseason record in the process. He went 12-for-14 from the field and 8-for-9 from distance and sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Blake Griffin, in his first playoff game in his home state, scored 23 points with five rebounds and five assists. Matt Barnes had 10 points. Jamal Crawford scored 17 off the bench, leading a reserve unit that outscored Oklahoma City, 20-4 through three quarters before Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan were pinned to bench with a 26-point cushion.
“I thought Chris set the tone, but I thought the bench came in at the end of the first quarter and the second quarter,” Rivers said. “I thought that was the difference. It was just a 10-12 point game and then the bench got it to 20.”
But for all of the long distance fireworks from the Clippers, it was their defensive effort that helped quiet the Thunder. They held Oklahoma City’s high-powered offense to 45.9 percent shooting, forced 18 turnovers (23 points off),and put together an extended 44-19 run after trailing by six points midway through the first quarter.
“I think we came out and set the tone defensively,” Barnes said. “We hit them first and never really looked back.”
Kevin Durant had 25 points, but needed 19 shots to do it. The Clippers made things difficult enough for the league’s top scorer and likely MVP. It was the goal along. Don’t try to stop Durant just make him uncomfortable.
Russell Westbrook had a team-high 29 points for Oklahoma City.
“As long as we play good defense and make it a tough shot for them (Westbrook and Durant),” said DeAndre Jordan, who had seven points and five rebounds in 28 minutes.
They did that to the Thunder’s stars and allowed little else from the rest of the roster. Serge Ibaka was their third-leading scorer with a dozen points. The Clippers, on the other hand, had five players in double-figures.
They led by as many as 29 points and never trailed after Paul’s second 3-pointer of the night gave them a 21-18 advantage.
By the time the buzzer sounded, and Paul was on the bench, the same snarl on his lip that existed when the game was close, it was clear that getting a fresh start was not all the Clippers had in mind. Game 2 was 48 hours away. It was time to get greedy.
“Most teams want to come in and split the road, but we’re not satisfied,” Crawford said. “We’re trying to get the next one as well.”
The Clippers are 2-2 on the road this postseason… The Clippers have made 10 or more 3-pointers in five of their eight postseason games… Ibaka was assessed a technical foul in the third quarter for kicking Griffin… Durant was called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter as he left the game with 10:40 to go and the Thunder down by 25… All 13 Clippers played and 11 made at least one field goal… It was the first win in the Western Conference Semifinals for the Clippers since May 2006 when they beat the Suns in Game 6…
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS HEAD COACH DOC RIVERS:
On Chris Paul’s performance despite recent injury:
“That’s just toughness. I thought he really set the tone for us at the start of the game. I just thought he went down hill a lot, with the drives, and that’s what we have been trying to tell him to do. Quick decisions, move the ball. I thought his being aggressive at the start of the game really set the tone throughout the game. Like I said before the game, I just felt like he felt better. You could see it this morning, he was just moving better, so that was good. We need it.”
On if Chris Paul has been this aggressive all season:
“I think one other time, I think he had that one bad game where he missed all those shots, and he came out aggressive. Other than that, not this aggressive. We needed it though; we needed a tone setter because turning around that quickly, I think he felt that he needed to set the tone.”
On if they did something different offensively to create so many uncontested looks:
“No, we moved the ball, and we were really good with our spacing tonight. I thought DP [Darren Collison] and CP [Chris Paul] going downhill with their drives, made their bigs stay a little longer; then our bigs ability to roll to the basket where you can just throw it up, they have to suck in. The key is you have to find the guy; there are openings on every team, and on our defense. Tonight we just had one of those nights where the ball found the open guy every single time. The second part is you have to make it, and we did that too. We just had one of those nights.”
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS GUARD CHRIS PAUL:
On how he felt after Game 7:
“I was tired. That was a very emotional game so you know nobody was going to feel sorry for you tonight.”
On recognizing how precious these moments are:
“I’ve never been past the second round, and this is my ninth season. I remember the team I was on in 2008 when we lost Game 7 to the Spurs, and you feel like you’re always going to be back there and that’s not the case. The team here, I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, but also it’s fun to be around each other. Tonight I think the biggest thing was moving the ball. It wasn’t like I was making unbelievable shots, it was because the court was open. When I had two defenders I gave it to Blake, and that’s what put so much pressure on the defense because BG [Blake Griffin] is such a great passer.”
On his three-point shooting:
“That’s what I do. That is a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. I promise you it has to be a career high. This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I can tell you that.”
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS GUARD JAMAL CRAWFORD:
On Chris Paul:
“He set the tone right from the start. He came out more aggressive offensively than he usually does, and he really set the tone for us so I think guys were able to relax. We were able to get a nice rhythm, and that’s why he was the head of the snake tonight.”
On the significance of the Clippers’ deep bench:
“Yeah, I think that’s our job. Obviously, guys were a little tired, a little banged up. And whenever the playoffs are going on starters are pretty much going to cancel each other out for the most part. So I think the bench coming in and stretching out the lead gets them rest and gets them back in rhythm, and they were able to take it from there.”
On winning the first game of the series:
“I think it just sets the tone for the series. Obviously like I said, people want to split the road trip, but we can’t be satisfied with that. We feel like if we’re out there it’s a competition. We’ll try and get better the next time.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER HEAD COACH SCOTT BROOKS:
“Well we have to play much better on the defensive side of the ball. They were getting to the free throw line, they were getting to the paint and they were making three’s so we have to do better job all the way around. We will get better. That’s not who we are. We have to play better defense against this team. This team is powerful, they have a lot of players and they played well tonight. They were making their shots. Chris Paul had an unbelievable three-point night, but we have to do a better job of guarding the line and guarding the ball.”
On losing Game 1:
“It’s one game. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t play well tonight but it is one game. It’s the first of four and we’ve said that many times. You’re going to hear that many more times. They’re up 1-0. We have to do a better job and make some adjustments. We have a day tomorrow. I believe in all of our guys, that’s the flexibility that we have as a group. I’m confident in all of the guys and I’m confident that we’re all going to play much better than tonight.”
On the Thunder’s defense:
“They (The Clippers) were feeling comfortable; they have good players. We didn’t make them feel us and we have to do a better job of that. They were on fire from the 3-point line. Paul hit eight of them and as a team they hit 15. We have to do a better job of guarding that line..”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER FORWARD KEVIN DURANT:
On the biggest issue tonight:
“Well, we started the game off well. They were hitting jump shots, that is what we want (them to take). Blake Griffin started off by hitting two or three jump shots. I think Chris Paul hit four or five threes in a row and J.J. Redick and (Matt) Barnes. We kept them out of our paint, but I would say we didn’t come out nonchalant. We came out aggressive and they hit shots…That kind of loosened our defense up for us. When a guy hits five or six threes in a row you don’t want to give him some more and that is when they started to get some stuff in the paint. The effort was there, we had good intentions, but they got hot. We have got to correct it. We have to make them miss next game and be a little bit more physical.”
On the Thunder not making the Clippers feel their presence:
“Like I said, they got loose on some stuff, they hit some shots. It is tough to guard a team when they hit the threes and then you don’t want to give up the paint part, but you don’t want to give up the threes as well. We do need to be a little more physical with them and make them feel us a little more. We just have got to be better, we have got to move the ball a little and also make some shots on our end. We are confident. We have got to watch film and get better tomorrow and come back on Wednesday.”
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER FORWARD NICK COLLISON:
On how they bounce back from this:
“Like I said, I think we have to look at what happened and get better. We realize that whoever wins this series is going to win 4 games. We lost an opportunity tonight to get one and whatever happened tonight is not going to affect us in Game 2. I think for us we’ve got to look at what happened and try and get better, try and improve, and like I said be a different team in Game 2.”
On if tonight was an energy issue or a matchup issue:
“Well I do think we had a tough time adjusting to their speed after the last series which was much slower paced. I don’t know if it caught us by surprise but we have got to be a lot better. We’ve got to be a much different team in Game 2. We’ll watch film and hopefully that’s what we’ll do… come out and be a different team.”
On how tough it is to control a guy like Chris Paul:
“Yeah when he’s hitting 3’s like that it’s tough. We can definitely make it more difficult on him than we did tonight. I think that’s where our focus is going to be is how can we defend better. It’s hard if you’re trying to rely on the other team not playing well. I think for us, you’ve got to focus on what can we do better, what can we do to make the shots tougher, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Eric Patten | Folow @EricPatten
This ought to be good.
After the Clippers add Oklahoma City Thunder narrowly escaped seven-game series in the opening round, the teams with two of the top three records in the NBA square off, from square one, in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Clippers squeaked past the Golden State Warriors, clinching the series with a 126-121 win after a week of turmoil and emotion. The Thunder won Game 7 against the Memphis Grizzlies, needing a blowout victory two night earlier in Memphis to stay alive. They cruised in the series finale at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the site of Monday’s series opener against the Clippers.
Home-court advantage was certainly a factor in both Game 7s. And even though the Clippers and Thunder split the regular season series with each other and were 1-1 and on the opponent’s home floor, home-court could still be a factor in round two. They are tied for the best home records in the West (36-8), including the Playoffs.
“It‘s tough to win [in Oklahoma City],” Matt Barnes said. “These Playoffs aren‘t going to be easy, but we‘ve won there this season, and we‘re looking to go up there and get one.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Another point guard battle. Chris Paul, who played his first two seasons in Oklahoma City as a member of the Hornets after they relocated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, goes from chasing Stephen Curry around for seven games to checking Russell Westbrook.
Paul jokingly said, “Pray for me” when asked about going from one All-Star point guard to another. But Paul may likely get help. Doc Rivers speculated that Darren Collison and perhaps Jamal Crawford will spend some time guarding the frenetic Westbrook, who has notched triple-doubles in two of the Thunder’s last three games.
Westbrook, however, has traditionally struggled against the Clippers. He’s averaging 17 points and shooting just 37.2 percent in 22 career games. Both numbers are his lowest against any opponent. In three of the four games this season, Westbrook was still working his way back from knee surgery (once in February and twice in mid-November). He scored fewer than 20 points and shot worse than 30 percent in those three, all with Paul as the primary defender on him. In their final meeting (Apr. 9), he scored 30 points with 11 rebounds, including grabbing two on the offensive glass late to help seal the game for Oklahoma City.
2. The defensive edge. The Clippers and Thunder both emerged as two of the best defensive teams in the league in terms of efficiency by season’s end. However, they were also among the league’s better field goal percentage defenses. Oklahoma City held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting on the season (third in the NBA) and were 18-2 when opponents shot sub 40 percent. The Clippers were not far behind. They held opponents to 44.1 percent shooting (fifth) and went 18-1 when opponents were 40 percent or worse from the floor.
They are both characterized by similar personnel. Westbrook and Paul are active defenders on the front line. They have a long-armed wing in Barnes and Thabo Sefolosha and rim protectors in Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan. Ibaka and Jordan finished second and third, respectively, in the regular season in shots blocked. Jordan leads everyone in the postseason with 4.0 per game. Ibaka is fifth.
3. Fouls and foul shots. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, who will likely be among the top three finishers in the league’s most valuable player balloting, are their leading scorers. And they both get opponents in early foul trouble, with Griffin drawing more fouls than anyone else in the league, and Durant leading the league in free throw attempts per game (9.9).
The Thunder as a team were second in the league (80.6 percent) in free throw shooting, while the Clippers finished 26th (73.0 percent). In the Playoffs, Oklahoma City is shooting 84.5 percent to the Clippers’ 74.6 percent. However, the Clippers get to the free throw line more than any other team in the postseason so far. They are averaging 32 free throws per game (nearly seven more than the Thunder).
The Clippers and Thunder have never met in the postseason… The Thunder have advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals in each of the last four seasons. They’re the only team in the West to do so… The Clippers are 0-3 all-time in round two, including losing to the Celtics in the 1976 Eastern Conference Semifinals when they were the Buffalo Braves… Sefolosha received two DNP-CDs in the Games 6 and 7 against Memphis. Former Clipper Caron Butler started at shooting guard… Griffin averaged 24.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game against the Thunder this season… The Clippers are 2-2 in Game 1s since the start of the 2011-12 season…
LAC: Hedo Turkoglu (back) is out.
OKC: None reported.
THE LAST WORD
Blake Griffin: “I think defensively, [the Golden State series] prepared us to really be on our rotations and understand that nothing is going to be perfect but we just have got to work it out.”‖
REGULAR SEASON SERIES RECAP
Nov. 13, 2013 at Staples Center: Clippers 111, Thunder 103
Nov. 21, 2013 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Thunder 105, Clippers 91
Feb. 23, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Clippers 125, Thunder 117
Apr. 9, 2014 at Staples Center: Thunder 107, Clippers 101