Thunder vs. LA Clippers Game Recap – Dec. 31, 2016

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

It’s never a bad thing to simply take care of business. As the seconds dripped off the clock of the Thunder’s final game of the 2016 calendar year, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s squad kick-started the New Year with a resounding, emphatic victory.

It was 114-88 Thunder over the LA Clippers on Saturday night, moving the Thunder to 8-1 all-time in its annual “Opening Night” game at Chesapeake Energy Arena to commemorate New Year’s Eve. To be fair, the Clippers were playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, its two most dynamic offensive playmakers and scorers. Regardless, it’s up to the Thunder each night to play hard, play well and defeat the team that stands in front of them. That’s what the Thunder did, moving to 21-13 on the season.

The starting unit began with a scoring barrage and stingy defense. There wasn’t even really a run to speak of, just consistent, dominant play.

“We started off on the right foot, trying to pressure their guards when Steven or I switched on them,” forward Domas Sabonis said. “We did a good job rebounding to finish the possession.”

The Thunder allowed just 12 points in the first quarter, a season-low for an opponent in any period so far this season. On the flipside, the Thunder scored 33 in that first quarter and rode out the victory from there. Donovan’s club’s lead never dipped below 17 in quarters two through four, and the starters got some much-needed rest before the team takes off for a three-game, four-day trip to Milwaukee, Charlotte and Houston this week.

The Thunder controlled the game in just about every statistical category. It shot 47.4 percent from the field, knocked down 30-of-35 free throws, outscored the Clippers 48-36 in the paint and 19-7 in points off turnovers. The most telling number of all, however, was fast break points, which the Thunder ruled 33-0 for the evening, including a 25-0 mark in the first half.

“We did a good job of playing fast on both sides,” point guard Russell Westbrook said. “We defended very well. We were getting in transition and getting easy buckets.”

In his return to action, Victor Oladipo helped ignite a Thunder run that also included nice contributions from just about everyone on the floor. All of it was orchestrated by Russell Westbrook, who racked up a triple-double before halftime and finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists. It was Westbrook’s 16th triple-double of the season and 53rd of his career.

“Russell did a tremendous job of setting the table for a lot of different guys with his assists, his passing and his decision-making,” Donovan said. “He played an incredible floor game.”

“My teammates do a great job of making it easy for me,” Westbrook explained. “My job is to keep the pace high and keep reading the game. The game will tell you what to do.”

Enes Kanter chipped in with a team-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds, while Steven Adams added 11 points, Domas Sabonis scored nine and so did Andre Roberson. The guy who got the crowd energized and the Thunder going from distance, however, was Alex Abrines. The rookie Spanish sharpshooter knocked down four of his five three-pointers for 12 points, including a 30-foot heave to beat the halftime buzzer.

“I didn’t know if he got it off in time, but obviously it went in and it was a big shot for us and it got us some momentum,” Westbrook chuckled.

It wasn’t just behind the line that Abrines did damage; he really showed off his length, confidence and athleticism by blocking a shot and making two steals, one of which came as he retreated in transition and hauled in an over-the-top pass with one hand.

“He did a lot of good things. He self-adjusted (after some early struggles) and did a really nice job,” Donovan said. “It was great to see him come back and respond the way he did.”

Unfortunately, the Thunder guard wasn’t so lucky on his second steal of the night. As he crossed-over with the ball and went to the basket, Abrines was fouled and fell into the first row of cameramen. Abrines left the game for good and was evaluated for concussion-like symptoms. He will be re-evaluated moving forward to determine his status in future games.

“Right now it does not look like a concussion. I would imagine that they will evaluate him tomorrow morning to see how he’s feeling,” Donovan said. “Sometimes symptoms spring up later on.”


New Year's Eve Highlights: Thunder vs. Clippers

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Oladipo's Return

It took him a few possessions. Heck, it took the Thunder nearly three minutes to get on the scoreboard, but once Oladipo and the crew got going, there was no looking back. In his first game back in the lineup after missing nine straight games due to a sprained wrist, Oladipo got back into action as if no time had passed, racking up 15 points, four rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes.

“I give Victor, the coaching staff and the medical staff a lot of credit because when you can’t practice and can’t play in games there are things you have to do to work on your conditioning,” Donovan said. “It was great to see him come back, get his feet under him and play as well as he did tonight.”

The Thunder had scored on three straight possessions when Steven Adams pulled down a defensive rebound and Westbrook hit Oladipo in transition for a three-pointer, and he responded with a firm head nod of affirmation. He was back. Not only did he score, but the multi-tool guard was flying around the court. He played tight defense, sprinted around the floor, set up teammates and attacked the glass.

Oladipo then sprinted down court a possession later and Westbrook hit him in stride for a stop-on-a-dime 16-foot jumper. The Thunder shooting guard added four more free throws before the quarter was over, hit a three in the second period and then scored on slick old-school three-point play, an elbow jumper plus the foul, early in the third quarter.

“The pace was high, Victor running the floor and he had an opportunity to be a ball-handler early in the game to create different things for our team,” Westbrook said.

“He’s been there for me since day one. Having him healthy on the court means a lot,” Sabonis added. “On offensive he gives us scoring. He’s very aggressive and on defense he’s there fighting with all of us.”

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By the Numbers

12 – Points allowed by the Thunder in the first quarter, the fewest for an opponent in any quarter this season

16 – Triple-doubles this season for Russell Westbrook through 34 games, just two shy of his total of 18 last season

33-0 - Advantage in fast break points for the Thunder on the night, including a 25-0 advantage in the first half

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The Last Word

“Sometimes we don’t play well and that happens, but because of Russell’s leadership, his motor, his energy and competitiveness, we really all as a group have a hard-playing group. As a coach, that’s the number one thing." – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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