|CLIPPERS FALL TO THUNDER FOR SECOND LOSS IN AS MANY NIGHTS |
- ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten
In the middle game of a back-to-back-to-back, the Clippers hung with the Thunder for a quarter.
But the Western Conference’s top team put together a brilliant stretch over the next 12 minutes, nabbing a 16-point halftime lead and spoiling Blake Griffin’s homecoming with a 114-91 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Both teams were scuffling a bit entering the game. They had both lost four of their last seven and both lost road games the night before. Yet it was the Thunder (35-12) that showed the ability to make shots consistently and spread the ball around, while the Clippers (26-20) failed to match their 30-point first quarter.
The Clippers, who played without small forward Caron Butler (rest), made 12 of their 26 3-pointers (46.2%), but were just 17-for-53 from 2-point range (31%).
Nick Young slid up to small forward and Randy Foye started at shooting guard.
Difference Maker: Kevin Durant. Every time the Clippers made a run it seemed Durant was there to answer. He set the tone with an assist and a layup to open the game, got to the free throw line when Oklahoma City needed it, made a jumper to quell a run, or tracked down a blocked shot against Griffin on a double team. It was the league’s second-leading scorer at his very best, efficient and unstoppable.
Turning Point: In the final two minutes of the first half and the Clippers down eight, point guard Chris Paul pushed it ahead to Foye for a layup attempt off a steal. He drew contact on the play, but no foul was called and Serge Ibaka knocked the ball out of bounds. Griffin missed a tough hook shot 10 seconds later and the Thunder ran off eight straight points to close the second quarter, extending their lead to 66-50.
Turning Point 2: Trailing by 20, the Clippers ran off 11-straight points between the third and fourth quarter. With 10:27 to go and the Thunder lead down to nine, L.A. missed four wild 3-point attempts and Russell Westbrook and James Harden added back-to-back baskets, regaining command for Oklahoma City.
Stat Line of the Night: Durant. He scored a game-high 32 points (five above his average) on 10-of-18 shooting, went 11-for-11 from the line, pulled down nine rebounds and had five assists and two steals. His presence on the floor also opened things up for his teammates. With the Clippers mixing and matching a 2-3 zone throughout the evening, the attention paid to Durant allowed guys like James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, and even Lazar Hayward open looks from outside.
More Stats: Randy Foye. In place of Butler, Foye made five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 23 points, a night after receiving a DNP-Coach’s decision. Arguably, Foye, who has said his goal is to remain aggressive no matter how his role on the team changes, was the main reason the Clippers were able to keep pace in the first quarter as he threw in 14 points. His season high for a quarter is 17.
Chris Paul. Paul had 13 points, 10 assists, and five steals. It’s the third time in his last four outings that Paul’s put together 13 or more points, 10 or more assists and four or more steals.
Serge Ibaka. The athletic power forward matched up well with Griffin and was problematic on offense early on. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said Ibaka, who had 15 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks, and Kendrick Perkins set the tone early with their energy.
Hot: The Thunder. They shot 53.8% from the floor, 40.9% from beyond the arc, and made 22 of their 23 free throws (95.5%). Only two players that played more than four minutes shot worse than 50%.
Not: Blake Griffin. It was hardly the return to Oklahoma City the Clippers superstar had hoped for. He went 3-for-11 from the field, scoring a season-low seven points with seven rebounds in 32 minutes. Griffin entered the night with 10 consecutive games of 50% shooting or better.
On the difference tonight between the Clippers and Thunder:
Randy Foye: “You have to bring it every possession. They were out there and they were playing like they were down 20 when they were up 15.”
On Griffin’s struggles:
Vinny Del Negro: “They load up on Blake. He’s shouldered a lot of the load for us this season. And he just had one of those games.”
Notes: The Clippers fell to 10-6 against the teams currently in the top eight in the West… The Thunder outshot the Clippers 60% to 31% from 2-point range… Longtime Laker Derek Fisher, wearing jersey No. 37, made his debut with the Thunder just hours after coming to terms with the team. He reached a buyout agreement with the Rockets earlier this week… The Thunder out-rebounded the Clippers 48-31… The teams are even in their season series (1-1) with two games remaining. The Clippers beat the Thunder, 112-100, in January, in what is widely considered one of L.A.’s premier performances of the season.
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