5 min read

Clippers vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Clippers vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Clippers (41-21, 20-10 road) vs. Thunder (43-20, 25-8 home)

TV: ESPN/FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:30 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.6 (2nd), Clippers – 106.2 (6th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (14th), Clippers – 100.3 (6th)

This next 5 game stretch will probably be the most important stretch of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their last 5 games, the Thunder went 2-3, with the three losses coming because of lack of execution in the fourth quarter. The Thunder could have easily been 5-0 or 4-1 during that stretch, but costly mistakes at inopportune times resulted in three confidence-crushing losses.

While mired in that muck, Dion Waiters seems to have lost his ability to shoot or handle a pass on the fast-break, Kevin Durant appears to have forgotten how to pass the ball cleanly in the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook’s jumper seems to be broken, and Randy Foye appears to be struggling in his new role as a back-up 3-and-D wing. As of late, a double digit lead for the Thunder carries about as much currency as a 5-point deficit. That’s how bad the Thunder have been with the lead in the last few games. Even in victory, the Thunder struggle to maintain the lead. In their last game against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder held a 20-point lead after the first quarter and a 21-point lead with just under 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Forty seconds into the fourth quarter, the Thunder found themselves in a 2-point game. They eventually won, but in a game where they held a 20+ point lead through much of the game, the Thunder needed nearly 12 minutes of Durant and Westbrook in the fourth quarter to secure a win. Those two should have been resting on the bench for most of that fourth quarter.

The next 5 sees the Thunder face the Clippers, T-Wolves, and Trailblazers at home and the Spurs and Celtics on the road. That is four of the hottest teams in the league currently and a T-Wolves team that can surprise you from time to time. Come out of that stretch undefeated or 4-1, and the Thunder can confidently move forward. But come out of that fray 3-2 or worse, and those confidence issues will only manifest themselves more as the season churns towards the playoffs. Something to remember with this team: Of all their players, only Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Nazr Mohammed have over one year of playoff experience. The pressure of the playoff push may be getting to some of the Thunder’s younger players. Something to watch as the season moves on.

Series History

This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Clippers. The first meeting was a back and forth affair that saw the Thunder come out with a 100-99 victory on a Kevin Durant jumper with 5 seconds left. In the second meeting, the Thunder held a 14 point lead with 5 minutes left in the game. They were outscored 22-3 the rest of the way as the Clippers snatched a 5-point victory from out of the Thunder’s clutches.

The Opponent

The Clippers come into the game with a 41-21 record, 1.5 games behind the Thunder for 3rd place in the West. This season has been a testament to how under appreciated Chris Paul has been. With Blake Griffin missing 32 games so far this season, the Clippers were primed to start slipping in the West. Instead, Paul has transformed the Clippers into more of a pace and space outfit, with DeAndre Jordan serving as the interior presence and three 3-point shooters on the wing. Paul is leading the Clippers in scoring (20 ppg) and assists (9.6 apg), while also being one of the better point guard defenders in the league.

On the wing, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Jeff Green have all been pretty successful serving as floor spacers for Paul and Jordan’s pick-n-roll game. Cole Aldrich has gotten good enough to be a decent back-up center in the league. Pablo Prigioni, Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are all on the downside of their careers, but can still be effective from time to time in short spurts.

3 Big Things

1. Perimeter Defense

It can’t be stressed enough how important perimeter defense is to defending the Clippers. The Thunder do an adequate enough job of bottling up the pick-n-roll attack from Paul and Jordan. It’s the shooters on the outside that can get loose from time to time and make the Thunder pay.

2. Fourth Quarter Execution

Here’s a brief summary of the Thunder’s 4th quarter in their last meeting with the Clippers:

  • 5/19 FG shooting
  • 0/5 3-pt FG shooting
  • 3/4 FT shooting
  • 6 Turnovers
  • Westbrook – 0/6 FG (0-2 3-pt FG), 2-2 FT
  • Durant – 2/4 FG, 1-2 FT
  • Rest of team – 3/9, with all three makes coming at the rim

What does this tell me: 1) The Thunder played the perimeter way too much in that fourth quarter. 2) The turnovers KILLED them. 3) Hack-a-Jordan would’ve probably helped stem the tide in this situation (got to stop the bleeding somehow).

The Thunder do a good job of getting out to leads against the Clippers. But they struggle in maintaining them due to the hyperkinetic fashion in which the Clippers play when they are in comeback mode. Also, the superstars on the Thunder need to play like superstars when most needed. While they get that done most of the time, but just didn’t have it in this game.

3. Cameron Payne/Anthony Morrow

With Dion Waiters out, the Thunder may showcase Payne or Morrow a little bit more in this game. It’s a good chance to see how they fare since being relegated to the bench in the past couple weeks.

Thunder Killer

Chris Paul – He just has a knack for hitting the Thunder up for high scoring nights on extremely efficient shooting. Maybe it’s the way the Thunder defend him or his familiarity with the friendly confines of the ‘Peake (formerly his stomping grounds when it was known as the Ford Center), but Paul always seems to go off against the Thunder.

Thoughts from the Sideline

First it was Ingrid Williams, wife to assistant coach Monty Williams. Then it was co-owner Aubrey McClendon. Now, it is Demetrius Pinckney, the 21 year old brother of Thunder guard Dion Waiters, who, according to reports, was murdered in Waiters’ hometown of Philadelphia. Say what you want about Waiters the basketball player, but at this point, he needs the same umbrella of support that Williams, the McClendons, and the Thunder have received in the last month.

We sometimes look at these players like video game versions of themselves, almost forgetting that they, like all of us, have families too. Here’s hoping that Waiters is able to fully mourn the death of his brother. The exact details of the incident are currently unknown, but family is family. I hope he takes as much time as he needs to recover from this emotional blow. It saddens me that if the Thunder had commemorative patches to honor the fallen members of the Thunder family, that they would be running out of space on their jerseys. Prayers up to Dion, his family, and the Thunder family. They’ve been through enough in this last month.