Coming off a thoroughly convincing victory against the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder escaped from LA with a dramatic 100-99 victory over the Clippers. The win climbs right up to the top of the charts as the biggest road win of the season for the Thunder.
Kevin Durant went just 10-of-24 from the field, but scored his 23rd and 24th points of the game as he drilled the game-winning jumper with 5,8 seconds left. He then made the game-saving block on Chris Paul’s 18-foot jumper to secure the win in nail-biting fashion.
This had the makings of being another game where the Thunder were going to struggle to execute down the stretch. Moments were there to seize control of the game, but the Thunder showed signs of faltering. With just over two minutes to go and the game still up for grabs, Durant missed a transition layup and Serge Ibaba missed the putback attempt. Durant then missed a good look at a go-ahead 3-point attempt. Russell Westbrook missed a wild layup attempt on the Thunder’s next possession. Westbrook had what appeared to be a game-saving steal with 14.0 seconds left, but they turned the ball over right after that. Paul took advantage of that mistake with a layup, giving the Clippers the lead. At that moment, it seemed like the Thunder were doomed. It looked like a carbon copy of OKC’s shortcomings this season. Instead, they changed their fate.
By the way, Monday’s matchup saw two of the best point guards in the league go at it as Westbrook and Paul took center stage. Both players tried to carry their teams late in the game. If it weren’t for Durant’s heroics late, Westbrook would have taken top honors. He scored five of his game-high 33 points in the final minute of the game. That burst by Westbrook moved the Thunder into position where Durant was able to take over the game.
Paul scored 32 for the Clippers and added 10 assists. Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick each scored 15. Los Angeles has now lost their third straight game, which equals their longest losing streak of the season.
In all honesty, this game should have had a viewer discretion is advised graphic attached to it. There were so many inconsistencies within the game. It lacked any kind of flow, often looking really choppy. There were even times where the erratic Lance Stephenson scored with more efficiency than Durant did. Yes, that Lance Stephenson. It was just a weird game. Outside a surge late in the second quarter and the final four minutes of the game, it appeared that OKC was sleepwalking out on the floor. It felt like the Thunder were primed to lay an egg, but they somehow found a way to execute when it mattered most.
OKC did just enough to get by as their largest lead of the game was just a mere two points. It took something they hadn’t shown on a consistent basis in order to win this one: late-game execution. It’s a make or miss league, and there’s been multiple games this season where they had their chances to earn victories in tight games and failed in doing so. Monday proved that OKC is capable of executing late as they went 7-of-11 from the field to finish the game.
The Thunder are a very good team, meaning they are going to win a lot of basketball games. It also means they are going to win their share of ugly games. Sometimes you just have to simply find a way to win. OKC was able to do that on Monday.
- In your latest installment of substitution pattern concerns, Thunder coach Billy Donovan sat Westbrook relatively early in the first quarter, but opted to start the second quarter with an all-bench lineup. The Clippers aren’t a team with a strong supporting cast, but they were able to extend their first-quarter lead from five to eight as both teams went to their benches. I know this could be seen as beating a dead horse, but some kind of adjustment needs to be made. Donovan has assembled an experienced staff of assistants to work by his side. You would think someone would suggest that going portions of the game without either Durant or Westbrook isn’t in the team’s best interest.
- Interestingly enough, Westbrook’s minor bout of foul trouble in the second half inadvertently resulted in Donovan playing zero minutes without either Durant and Westbrook in the second half. Go figure.
- The Clippers ranked as the third-worst team in the league in terms of points in the paint (37.2), but it appeared they were able to score at will early on. The Thunder’s general lethargic play allowed the Clippers to get 14 points in the paint in the first quarter. LA finished the game with 44 points in the paint. Despite the looming presence of DeAndre Jordan, OKC scored 48 points in the paint. Based on the final margin of victory, OKC needed every single one of those points.
- There were multiple instances in the second quarter where the Clippers decided to switch on 1/3 pick-and-rolls, leaving Paul to defend Durant. Even though Paul can pick a pocket with the best of them, this strategy didn’t seem wise at all. As the Thunder were struggling, they found this mismatch and correctly exploited it. It paid off as the mismatch got the Thunder going to finish the half.
- Speaking of Durant, while he’s one of the best scorers in the world, his defense isn’t always a topic of discussion. While he looked like just a mere human for a better part of the game in terms of scoring, he did an incredible job of staying in front of Griffin when he was matched up on him. Griffin was scoreless for the first quarter. Durant’s defense got Griffin out of rhythm and he was unable to find a groove for the remainder of this one.
- Steven Adams had a heck of a battle on the boards with DeAndre Jordan. LA’s big man averaged 13.3 rebounds a night heading into the matchup against OKC. Adams outrebounded Jordan 11-10 Monday.
- On top of their losing skid, the Clippers are now 0-4 against the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference. Not a good look for them.
Next up: Another trip to STAPLES as they face the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday.