After a close contest with the Golden State Warriors on opening night, the Thunder played their second straight game without Russell Westbrook and saw a similar story unfold as the Clippers took a 108-92 victory on Friday night in Los Angeles.
The Clippers raced out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter, as Paul George was ice cold to start the game — shooting 1-of-9 in the first. OKC wasn’t able to generate transition opportunities early as they lacked any urgency on the defensive end, failing to close out on shooters and cover backdoor cuts on countless occasions. However, through the efforts of the bench, the Thunder were able to claw their way back to trim the Clippers’ lead to 7 at the end of the first.
Midway through the second the Thunder were able to tie the game at 35 apiece, but got down again as Billy Donovan slotted Terrance Ferguson to guard Tobias Harris, while Paul George guarded Avery Bradley in the corner (for the life of me I’m not sure I will ever understand this decision from Billy). OKC was able to keep it close, however, as the Clippers led 48-46 at the half after some crucial shots from Raymond Felton.
The Thunder came out of the gate hot in the second half, with much improved defensive communication and a clear desire to get interior penetration on the other end. Paul George once again pulled a 180 offensively and instead of settling for contested 2’s, actually forced his way to the rim to either draw a foul, generate a good look, or create an easy opportunity for one of the OKC bigs. With PG leading the way and a strong quarter from Nerlens Noel, the Thunder took the lead for the first time and held a 77-71 advantage heading into the fourth.
OKC had a decent start in the final frame, but the combination of Patrick Patterson and Boban led to the Thunder’s demise. Patterson was incapable of guarding anyone tonight and single-handedly allowed Tobias Harris to find a rhythm. Boban used his size to disrupt the Thunder offense entirely, as there was hardly much willingness to attack the 7-10 big man in the paint.
In the end, the Thunder offense ran cold (26 percent shooting in the fourth), and the Clippers closed the final 6:50 on an 18-2 run to erase OKC’s lead and take the contest. OKC played two solid quarters in the 2nd and 3rd, but ultimately fell due to their inability to bookend those quarters with solid play.
The Thunder make their home debut on Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings. Tip-off is at 6:00 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
+6: OKC gathered six more offensive rebounds than the Clippers, but couldn’t seem to capitalize on all of them due to missed open 3’s
35.8: The Thunder somehow managed to shoot worse than they did against the Warriors with a FG% of only 35.8 percent.
+5: The Thunder won 52-47 on the glass.
21.2: OKC continued their streak of bad shooting from three, shooting only 21.2 percent from deep compared to LAC’s 42.3 percent
-3: LAC tallied 3 more assists than OKC — 21-18 — in large part because of OKC’s dreadful three-point performance
+2: OKC was once again active in the steals department, nabbing 5 to the LAC’s 3
+1: Only one more block for the boys in white tonight, 4-3
-4: OKC actually managed to commit two fewer turnovers than LAC, but failed to get in transition as often as they’d like — the Clippers won the fast break battle by a tally of 14-10
George: 20 pts (7/27 FG, 3/11 3P), 8 rebs, 4 ast, 2 stl, -13
Adams: 17 pts (8/11 FG), 18 rebs, 1 stl, -16
Schroder: 8 pts (2/15 FG, 2/6 3P), 2 rebs, 8 ast, -18
Patterson: 5 pts (2/4 FG, 1/2 3P) 2 rebs, 1 blk, -9
Ferguson: 4 pts (1/6 3P), -11
Grant: 4 pts (1/4 FG), 8 rebs, 2 ast, 2 blks, -5
Felton: 12 pts (5/12 FG, 0/3 3P), 4 rebs, 3 ast, +2
Abrines: 10 pts (4/10 FG, 2/7 3P), 2 rebs, 1 ast, -9
Noel: 9 pts (4/5 FG), 5 rebs, 1 stl, +0
Diallo: 3 pts (0/1 FG, 3/4 FT), 3 reb, +1
Paul George highlights:
Paul George seems to have a first half problem. He hasn’t looked fully engaged on either side to start each of the last two games. His shot selection has been questionable (he looks to be rushing his release) while lacking hustle on defense. Especially when OKC is scrambling, his effort needs to set the tone for everyone below him on the totem pole. However, his rebounding and passing stood out and lifted OKC up in moments where they truly needed PG to shine and create for others. He needs to address his shooting form, I don’t know why he feels the need to yank back his release every time, but I can guarantee that it’s affecting his shooting percentage.
Nerlens Noel is going to be really good for the Thunder. He’s finally being put in a position to succeed on the court unlike his two previous stops in the league and it’s already showing its benefits. He still has flaws, such as he often plays like a greedy 2K player, going for a steal after a missed offensive rebound opportunity instead of getting back on defense, but he does hustle down the court with surprising swiftness afterward — so it has yet to really cost OKC anything. Noel also doesn’t quite have the defensive rotations nailed down — not really sure any player does yet so I can’t single him out too much — but it’s nevertheless an area that he can improve upon.
Alex Abrines finally looks like the player that got so many people excited when he came over from Spain. He’s moving off the ball with such energy and conviction that he’s never shown before and it’s paying dividends. Abrines has also seemed to have tamed his most glaring issue defensively — “happy feet”, or the over-movement of his feet on defense which leads to him being off-balance and allowing easy blow-byes.
One tiny detail that should make a pretty big difference, especially when Russ returns, is where Abrines is spacing the floor from. He’s now extended his range to deep three point territory, much like that of Eric Gordon. It’s only 2-3 feet of space, but when you have a lack of shooters, taking a defender that far out of the play is key to generating good looks both inside and out.
Terrance Ferguson looked much better tonight than he did against Golden State. He wasn’t particularly bad against the Warriors, he just… didn’t really do anything positive or negative. However, he was much more assertive on offense this evening and used his length to disrupt passing lanes and tip rebounds back to Steven Adams on multiple occasions. His shot mechanics have never been broken, but I thought tonight he looked abnormally solid in his mechanics. He seems to have shortened the distance to which he brings the ball back and, instead of relying on his triceps, is utilizing a full body shot.
Patrick Patterson has been bad. We’re now two games into his second season and he seems to have gotten worse. Where is the quick thinking ball mover that was present at times last season? That is the Pat Pat that is needed, not the shot-seeking undersized 4 that’s currently playing in white. At this point, if Patterson doesn’t start showing clear signs of improvement when Russ returns, Jerami Grant should be demanding that starting spot.