FINAL | January 22, 2013 | Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA  

Clippers

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LOGO

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ERIC PATTEN 

LOS ANGELES–The Clippers, playing without a superstar of their own, had no answer for Oklahoma City’s.

Kevin Durant, who missed five of his first eight shots, leveled the Clippers after halftime and despite several spurts by the Clippers in an attempt to get back in the game; Durant’s Thunder came out victorious, 109-97, Tuesday night at Staples Center.

Durant scored a game-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, sending the Clippers (32-11) to their second loss in as many days. The Thunder (33-9) retained the best record in the NBA with the victory.

The big game atmosphere between the league’s two best teams, which included a revved up Clippers crowd and lingering smoke in the arena from pregame pyrotechnics, was quelled somewhat by the absence of Chris Paul, who sat out for the fourth time in the last six games with a bone bruise in his right kneecap.


“We know how much Chris makes a difference, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I have a lot of confidence in the guys that played. We just didn’t play as well as we needed to.”

Despite returning to the lineup on Saturday, Paul was clearly slowed by the lingering injury in Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, after which Del Negro and the team’s training staff decided to shut him down.

Prior to the game Del Negro said Paul will continue to be monitored, but did not give a timetable for the six-time All-Star’s return.

The Clippers were undefeated during last week’s three-game road trip without Paul, but on Tuesday they could not overcome Durant or the Thunder’s 15-for-27 (55.6%) performance from long distance. Oklahoma City made 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half, turning a four-point lead into a 16-point lead with 3:19 remaining in the third.

And even when the Clippers climbed back, Durant had an answer, including consecutive 3-pointers late in the fourth to help Oklahoma City regain control.

Moment of Truth: The Thunder turned a four-point halftime lead into a 77-61 advantage with 3:19 left in the third quarter. They essentially couldn’t miss in the quarter, opening 10-of-12 from the field in the first 8:41. Durant had 11 points in the quarter with four assists and Thabo Sefolosha, who is one of three members of the Thunder shooting better than 40% from 3-point range this season, made all three of his shots from beyond the arc.

Difference Maker: Durant. He was not only the deadly scorer that he’s been for nearly half a decade, but he left his imprint on every facet of the Thunder’s offensive attack. He had seven rebounds and seven assists, driving into the lane, drawing attention from a collapsing defense and kicking out to shooters like Sefolosha or Kevin Martin, who had 13 points off the bench.

“I couldn’t find a shot there early on so I had to just play good defense,” Durant said. “I saw multiple guys on drives and off pick-and-rolls and I just tried to take what their defense was giving me.”

Stat Line of the Night: Blake Griffin. It was the second loss in a row that Griffin has contributed a bushel of statistics. He had a season-high 31 points on Tuesday with 11 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. He continued his run of success at the foul line, shooting 9-for-10 against the Thunder, and improving to 80.0% since Jan. 5.

More Stats: 

Russell Westbrook. Despite struggles in seven of his previous eight games against the Clippers at Staples Center, Westbrook controlled the game for Oklahoma City at times with his energy and ability to knock down quick-release jumpers. He finished with 26 points, six assists (five turnovers) and four rebounds.

“I’m seeing the floor better this season,” Westbrook said. “The game is slowing up for me a little bit. I am just trying to make the right plays when I am in.”

Serge Ibaka. The big man fouled out in the final minute, but connected on seven of his 13 shots, including a 3-pointer from the left corner that helped stall a Clippers run in the fourth quarter. He also had nine rebounds, but just one blocked shot. Ibaka leads the NBA with 2.82 blocks per game.

Crawford. In his final game before All-Star reserves are announced, Crawford scored 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting. He struggled early, missing six of his first eight shots as part of a 38.8% shooting first half for the Clippers. However, Crawford helped the Clippers fight back, tallying a layup around Ibaka and a 3-pointer in a 7-0 fourth-quarter run.

Hot: Durant overall or Oklahoma City from 3-point range. Take your pick. Durant made nine of his 11 shots in the second half, squeezing the life out of any rally attempts by the Clippers. He made five of his six 3-pointers, but was not alone. The Thunder shot 15-for-27 (55.6%) from 3-point range on the night with four players making at least three.

“We gave up too many threes, especially in the second half,” Del Negro said. “They got a couple of big offensive rebounds and Kevin knocked in a couple of threes on us, which hurt us. We cut it to seven, but they controlled the game pretty much in the second half. Their 3-ball hurt us a lot.”

Not: Bledsoe. Filling in for Paul, the youngster looked great in two games and struggled in two others. Unfortunately for the Clippers, his most notable problems came Tuesday against Westbrook. He missed 11 of his 16 shots for 12 points and had just four assists. He did provide two highlight-reel blocked shots, including rejecting a layup attempt by Martin in the fourth quarter from nearly a standstill position under the rim.

Del Negro said the Thunder’s defensive strategy against the lightning bug of a point guard may have played a role in his shooting woes.

“They were going under him so much [on the pick and roll],” Del Negro said. “I thought he took some good shots and then he tried to get to the basket and stuff. He missed a few shots he usually makes, but they were going under on him. I didn’t think he forced very many [shots].”

Quotables:

On the game:

Griffin: “They just hit shots. Down the stretch they hit shots. We tried to fight back, but we put ourselves in too big of a hole. We’ve got to do a better job on turnovers. Down the stretch, [we had] a couple offensive rebounds, two quick threes. I think the lead was cut to seven at that point. It’s tough, especially against a team like that. They have the best record in the NBA for a reason.”

On team defense against Durant:

DeAndre Jordan: “I thought that Caron Butler and Grant Hill did a good job on him, but when a guy is nearly 7-feet tall with a crossover like Jamal, it’s going to be tough.”

On the Clippers:

Durant: “This team’s a really good team. They were missing Chris Paul tonight, which is a huge piece. Eric Bledsoe’s been playing well in his absence, so we just wanted to come out here and get rolling.”

On adjustments to playing without Paul:

Crawford: “The other guards, Willie [Green], myself, Eric [Bledsoe] have to play more point guard than usual. Grant [Hill’s] even playing more point guard to free up some guys. And with Chris as an orchestrator he organizes everything on the floor. We’ll miss him for sure, but we have to step up in his absence.”

Notes: The Clippers have failed to score 100 points in four consecutive games… In their April 16, 2012 meeting at Staples Center last season, the Clippers held the Thunder to 27-for-72 from the field. On Tuesday Oklahoma City went 41-for-78… Prior to the game, Del Negro said Chauncey Billups (peroneal tendinitis in his left foot) will increase his workload. “He’s started a little contact stuff. He’ll up his workouts and up his contact stuff here in the next week.”

 

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