Round 2, Game #3 | May 9, 2014
Staples Center | Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES – Blake Griffin was back with a vengeance. Chris Paul continued his run of brilliant shooting.
But the Clippers’ superstars could not outgun the Oklahoma City Thunder in a pivotal Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series Friday night at Staples Center.
For all of Griffin’s 34 points and Paul’s sixth double-double of the postseason, the Clippers gave up back-to-back clutch baskets to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the final minute and a half, and lost, 118-112.
They trail the Thunder two games to one, giving home-court advantage back to Oklahoma City after stealing it away four days ago.
“We obviously scored enough points to win,” Paul said. “[Westbrook] hit a big three when they were up one, [Durant] hit one on the wing. We’re used to getting stops in those situations and we didn’t tonight.”
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said the Clippers’ defense betrayed them tonight, particularly in a fourth quarter in which Oklahoma City outscored them 32-22 and used an exclusively small-ball lineup to shoot 61.1 percent.
“We obviously have to play defense better and I have to coach defense better,” Rivers said. “They got everything. They got threes, layups, key second shots. Down the stretch they made every big play. Every shot they needed went in.”
Griffin added eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots to his team-high 34 points. Paul had 21 points, 16 assists and three steals and Jamal Crawford, who was presented his Sixth Man of the Year trophy prior to the game, added 20 points off the bench.
But after Griffin’s layup cut the Thunder’s lead to 108-107, Oklahoma City scored the next seven points. Westbrook, who had 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, drained a 3-pointer from straightaway. Durant made a tough fall away jumper over Paul and Jackson made two free throws with 22.7 seconds to go.
Durant finished with a game-high 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Jackson and Caron Butler, who made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, scored 14 apiece off the bench, and Serge Ibaka had 20 points.
“When Westbrook and Durant get going, they make difficult shots,” J.J. Redick said. “The thing that’s happened the last two games is they’ve had different guys step up. Tonight, Reggie Jackson and Serge played well offensively. We know Durant and Westbrook are going to get their points. We’d like to limit the other guys as much as possible.”
In their inability to limit the “other guys”, the Clippers defense allowed the Thunder to shoot 55.7 percent, 10 percent better than the Clippers, and were outrebounded, 44-33, despite the Clippers earning 13 more shot attempts.
“I thought we allowed too many easy baskets, you know, dunks, layups,” Griffin said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job on the boards. We’ve got to win the battle of the boards.”
Free throws helped give the Clippers a seven-point lead in the first quarter, but once they stopped getting to the line, the Thunder spurted ahead. The Clippers scored just eight points in more than six minutes of the second quarter. The drought allowed Oklahoma City to grab a 48-43 lead. But Matt Barnes responded with two consecutive baskets and an elbow jumper from Paul put the Clippers back ahead, 49-48. The 6-0 run led to a Thunder timeout with 3:43 left before halftime.
Barnes finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
The Clippers led at halftime and again at the end of the third after they scored the final eight points of the period, including the last six on free throws. Reggie Jackson fouled Paul on a 3-point attempt and was called for a technical foul after the whistle and Durant made contact with Crawford’s arm as heaved the ball from half-court with 0.3 seconds left in the quarter. Crawford, who also took the technical free throw, and Paul went 6-for-7 from the line, giving the Clippers a 90-86 lead heading into the fourth.
But the Thunder took advantage of a cold spell from the Clippers in the fourth quarter and even after a late push, including a put-back layup by DeAndre Jordan and Griffin’s layup, Westbrook and Durant had an answer.
Crawford was honored before the game for winning the 2014 KIA Sixth Man of the Year Award. He was presented with his trophy at center court prior to pregame introductions and a video tribute was shown at the first stoppage of play in the first quarter… Griffin scored 10 points or more in the first quarter for the 22nd time this season, including the Playoffs… Rihanna, Floyd Mayweather, Boston marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, and actor Timothy Olyphant were among those in attendance… Paul is 12-for-19 (63.1 percent) from 3-point range in the series… Jordan, who scored 10 points with 11 rebounds, had his fifth double-double of the postseason and first of the series…
Q. Chris, Doc talked about this game being lost on the defensive end. Do you agree with that?
CHRIS PAUL: No question. We've been a team regardless of how the first three-quarters, the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch. Tonight we didn't do that. We obviously scored enough points to win. Russ hit a big three when they were up one, KD hit one on the wing. We're used to getting stops in those situations and we didn't tonight.
Q. Chris, you're not playing like you're hurt. Are you slowed at all with that hamstring?
CHRIS PAUL: No, I'm cool.
Q. Thunder went with a small lineup most of the fourth quarter. You got it into Blake a bunch. When they do that, they're good on offense, but susceptible on defense. Did you take enough advantage of their small lineup in the fourth quarter?
CHRIS PAUL: Somewhat. But, you know, Caron hit a couple big shots there down the stretch.
But we did what we wanted to as far as on the offensive end. We had a lot of good looks, a lot of shots that went in and out. It came down to the defensive end. We didn't get stops when we needed to. We never really made them feel us.
Q. You had a terrific Game 1 victory, but now lost two in a row. That might make you down psychologically a little bit. How do you overcome that?
CHRIS PAUL: Just come out ready to play. It's a tough one here. But we need to get Game 4. It's like a must-win for us, a big game for us. We knew that we were going to have to win at least one there, and now we're going to have to win two there. We're going to have to start off with a Game 4 win.
Q. Is there one thing in particular?
CHRIS PAUL: First of all, I have to keep Russ in front of me. He's tough because he's sort of all over the place, coming downhill a lot of the time. You never know when they're going to call a foul on you, stuff like that.
We have to not even worry about that. I have to defend him better, try to keep him off the free-throw line, him and KD.
Q. Is this as good or under control as you've seen Russ as far as only 14 shots, 13 assists tonight, just as a pure point guard?
CHRIS PAUL: I don't know. It's not up to me to judge him, you know what I mean? I play against him. I could care less what he does.
So for me, I just go out there and compete, do what I'm supposed to do.
Q. (Another question about Russ.)
CHRIS PAUL: I don't know man, I don't know.
Q. Caron has 14. Reggie Jackson had 14. How do you cut the other guys off like Serge?
CHRIS PAUL: I'm sure that's something we'll talk about. We're used to seeing those guys put up a lot of shots, but they found a way to get their teammates involved. Got to be one or the other or just control everybody. We'll go back to the drawing board and
figure it out.
Q. Is there one thing you need to shore up or anything like that?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: Early I thought we allowed too many easy baskets, you know, dunks, layups. I think we got to do a better job on the boards. We got to win the battle on the boards offensively, defensively, all that.
Q. Blake, you got hit pretty hard in the nose. You were bleeding. There was no foul called. What did you see or perceive?
BLAKE GRIFFIN: I got hit, took an elbow to the nose. When I asked him about it, he said I ran my face into his elbow. So I got to be careful where I put my face.
Q. How much of that started at the point of attack, getting beat off the dribble?
COACH RIVERS: Yeah, some of it was. Then they were dragging us a lot off the pick'n rolls, which strung us out. Left Caron open, who made a couple big shots. It hurt us.
Q. You got big numbers out of Blake. Serge had a big game on the other side. How do you look at how much you improved inside?
COACH RIVERS: We improved. Blake was efficient. We got him in the right spots tonight. I thought whenever he faced an attack, it's very difficult to guard him. We did a really good job there. Serge made shots. Again, I think that's on our rotations and our defense. We have to do a better job of getting to him.
Q. Second straight game they got points from others, wasn't just Westbrook.
COACH RIVERS: Serge was one. That was out of rotation. Then Caron was the other one. But all of them played well.
Listen, they played well today. They really did. I thought offensively we played good, but defensively we didn't.
Q. Talk about as far as the fact that offensively trying to contain them, how much of a fact that it was fatigue that set in.
COACH RIVERS: I don't buy into fatigue. They're just as tired as us. Seven-game series they went through. We've gone through it. You never use that. Everybody's tired right now. Both teams are tired. Both teams in the East and the West are tired.
Fatigue cannot be used. We just have to be mentally tougher. You can't be tired.
Q. What do you do to turn this around?
COACH RIVERS: We have to fight better defensively. I have to do a better job tonight watching film. Obviously you don't want to recreate the wheel, you don't want to do a lot of changes. There's a couple things we have to do in pick'n roll coverage to improve. That's about it.
Q. Is their physicality inside affecting your guys' ability to finish consistently?
COACH RIVERS: We didn't finish a lot at the basket. I think they hurt us. I don't know what the points in the paint were. They crushed us there.
Eric Patten | Folow @EricPatten
Doc Rivers never expected the Clippers’ first-round series with the Warriors to be brief, and he had similar inclinations about round two.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder taking on the Clippers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals Friday night at Staples Center and the series tied at one game apiece, it looks as though Rivers might have been right.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said Thursday afternoon. “If any guy is upset that it’s hard then they’re in the wrong job. It’s supposed to be hard. Guarding [Russell] Westbrook is going to be hard. Guarding [Kevin] Durant, [Serge] Ibaka. They’re good. For what we’re trying to win, it’s got to be hard.
“I don’t know the distance of the series. I hope we win the next three. But I just know, even if we did that that was going to be hard.”
Westbrook and Durant combined for 63 points in the Thunder’s Game 2 victory, but the Clippers claimed home-court advantage in the series by leaving Oklahoma City with a split. Now, they have a chance to keep it in front of a Staples Center crowd that in Games 5 and 7 of the first round were as instrumental in victories as any group this postseason.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Turnovers. The Clippers led the NBA in points off turnovers in the regular season (19.5 per game). It is a trend that has continued in the Playoffs. Through nine games in the Playoffs, they lead the league, scoring 19.0 points per game off opponents’ miscues.
The Thunder have been a high-turnover team, in part because of their pace of play. They have committed 34 turnovers in two games. However, after Oklahoma City’s miscues led to 23 points from the Clippers in Game 1, the Clippers only managed 10 points off turnovers in Game 2. It is not necessarily a matter of volume of turnovers, but whether or not the opponent capitalizes on them that could swing Game 3.
2. Blake Griffin. Griffin’s Game 2 was arguably his most tentative of the Playoffs. He went 5-for-13 from the field in 35:29 and seemed passive at times on the perimeter. The expectation is that that will change in Game 3.
“Blake’s been an MVP candidate for us all year,” Jamal Crawford said. “We’ve got to get him more shots and I think he’ll be more aggressive moving forward.”
The message for Griffin, who is averaging 22.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists in nine games in the Playoffs, to be more aggressive resonated with him following Game 2.
“I got shots. I think I rushed a couple, missed some easy ones, missed ones I should make,” Griffin said. “But [Rivers] told me in front of the team, you’ve got to be prepared to go 0-for-30 and keep shooting. So, that’s got to be my mindset.”
He has seen waves of defenders, led by Ibaka, who presents a challenge with his length and shot-blocking ability (he’s second in the NBA in blocks this postseason). The Thunder have used Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and even Durant at times in an attempt to throw a variety of looks at Griffin defensively.
3. The third quarter. The adjustment period after halftime has proven vital in the series. In Games 1 and 2, the team that won the third quarter won the game. In Game 1, it turned a double-digit Clipper lead into a laugher and two days later the Thunder turned a close game into a 17-point lead.
During the regular season, the Clippers outscored opponents by nearly three points per game in the third and went 35-0 at home when leading after the third, but they lost in Game 1 of the first round, though, despite a lead entering the fourth.
The Thunder went 53-7 when leading after three quarters in the regular season.
There have been 203 best-of-seven series that have been tied 1-1. The Game 3 winner goes on to win the series 76 percent of the time (154-49)… Paul has five double-doubles this postseason. His next one will match Elton Brand for the most by a Clippers player in a single postseason since the team moved to Los Angeles. Brand had six in the 2006 Playoffs… The Clippers are 4-1 when holding an opponent to 105 points or fewer in the Playoffs… Russell Westbrook has three triple-doubles in the last six games, including Game 2. He had played in just 55 games this season, including the Playoffs, with the Thunder going 39-16 when he’s in the lineup… The Clippers have previously hosted five Game 3s since moving to Los Angeles. They have won two of them…
LAC: Hedo Turkoglu (back) is out.
OKC: None reported.
THE LAST WORD
Doc Rivers: “We are in the middle of a playoff series and we are in the middle of a mess at the same time. At the end of the day, we have to win in the playoffs and we have to clean out the mess.”
PLAYOFF SERIES RECAP
Game 1: May 5, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Clippers 122, Thunder 105
Game 2: May 7, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena: Thunder 112, Clippers 101
Game 3: May 9, 2014 at Staples Center
Game 4: May 11, 2014 at Staples Center
Game 5: May 13, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena
Game 6*: May 15, 2014 at Staples Center
Game 7*: May 18, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena