Kenny Mauer and the boys in stripes didn’t do any favors for the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-26) Friday night at the Staples Center, as OKC fell to the Los Angeles Clippers (38-29) by a final score of 118-110. Highlighted by a handful of questionable calls, the Thunder were unable to pull away with the game hanging in the balance during crunch time. Russell Westbrook and Paul George fouled out in final minutes after both were forced to sit during the third quarter with foul trouble. Westbrook led the way for the Thunder with 32 points, while Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari combined for 74 points on a combined 23-of-43 shooting from the field, including a combined 6-of-11 from three. The loss was OKC’s seventh out of their last ten games.
There were plenty of first quarter fireworks with both Gallinari and Westbrook leading their ball clubs with 15 points apiece in the opening 12 minutes. Speaking of 15, Westbrook picked up his 15th technical after he and Montrezl Harrell were issued double-techs after Harrell’s hip-check on Dennis Schroder at the 1:44 mark. That means Westbrook will receive an automatic one-game suspension if he picks up another. The Clippers led 36-32 after one.
Paul George came into tonight shooting 35.8 percent from the floor and 23.7 percent from beyond the arc over his last six games and his struggles were more of the same in the first half. PG’s rhythm was nowhere to be found, going 2-of-11 with seven points. Similar to both games earlier this week, Westbrook was the lone offensive spark for the Thunder — everyone outside of Westbrook shot a combined 32.4 percent from the field in the half. A critical possession came with just under three minutes to go as the Thunder surrendered two separate offensive rebounds before Clippers rookie Landry Shamet made them pay with a three-pointer, pushing LA’s lead to 13. The Thunder allowed far too many easy buckets to Lou Williams and Gallinari as they combined for 43 points on 15-of-24 shooting in the half. The Thunder trailed 56-68 at the break.
Oklahoma City’s All-Stars found themselves in serious foul trouble in the third quarter — starting with PG picking up his fourth at the 10:29 mark, followed by Westbrook’s fourth with 9:11 remaining. Westbrook rocked the baby after a beautiful baseline fade away, cutting the Thunder deficit to five, but immediately picked up his fifth foul on the Clippers’ next trip down at the 7:37 mark. Westbrook was forced to sit for the remainder of the quarter. It didn’t take long for PG to join him on the bench after picking up his fifth foul with 3:49 on the clock. The outlook wasn’t looking great for the Thunder, but Abdel Nader’s three-pointer at the buzzer capped a 12-2 OKC run to the end the third, cutting the Thunder’s deficit to four going into the final frame.
Nader kept it going for the Thunder by starting the fourth with an emphatic and-one dunk, bringing the Thunder to within one. The Clippers’ pushed their advantage back up to six after Williams’ three with 8:41 left to play, but five straight points by Markieff Morris brought the Thunder back to within a point after his three-pointer at the 7:02 mark. After OKC had missed five straight shots, George’s three put the Thunder on the high side 99-98 with 4:19 on the clock. After Gallinari’s layup the next trip down, George caught the ball at the top of the key and jab-stepped into Patrick Beverly — who proceeded to flop in dramatic fashion, drawing the whistle from Kenny Mauer. PG was forced to sit with his six fouls and the Thunder trailing by one with 3:49 remaining. The Thunder needed Westbrook to kick it into gear to close this one out.
With the Thunder trailing by two, Westbrook went coast-to-coast and finished with a nifty scoop layup to tie the game with 3:08 left. After another questionable call, this time on Terrance Ferguson, the Clippers regained the lead with a pair of free throws by Shamet. After initially drawing the matchup on Beverly, Westbrook forced the switch onto Harrell and attacked the paint, drawing the foul and finishing the layup. Westbrook’s free throw put the Thunder up one with 2:30 remaining.
The Thunder were unable to get a stop the next trip down, instead giving Williams a wide-open three after a defensive breakdown on pick-and-roll coverage. Ferguson was unable to answer with a wide-open three of his own from the corner and Williams’ responded with a hesitation jumper, putting the Clippers up four with 1:37 to go. A Westbrook three brought the Thunder back to within one, but this time it was Gallinari who answered with a jumper over Schroder. With the Thunder needing another successful possession, Westbrook attacked the paint and drew the contact on a clearly moving Gallinari, drawing the foul. However, Mauer’s crew called Westbrook with the horrendous offensive foul, sending him to the bench with six fouls and the Thunder trailing by three with under a minute remaining. Another jumper from Williams put the Clippers up for good with 35 seconds remaining.
Defending Without Fouling: The Thunder were in foul trouble early and often in this one. The Clippers had the luxury of being in the bonus after a few minutes in the first three quarters. Westbrook was forced to sit for a majority of the third quarter after picking up his fifth foul, and George sat right beside him a few minutes later after he picked up his fifth. The Thunder are not a stout defensive team right now and the lazy fouling is quite indicative.
Putting The Past Behind Him: While the Thunder have been busy losing seven of their last ten games, Westbrook has quite suddenly found his groove on the offensive end. He came into tonight averaging 32.1 points on 48.6 percent from the field, including 37.9 percent from beyond the arc on nine attempts per over his last nine games. Westbrook was the driving force for the Thunder tonight, pitching in another efficient 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting (2-of-9 3P). These handful of losses aren’t entirely useless for the Thunder if Westbrook can keep his scoring up going forward.
Help Me Help You: It was another vintage 2016-17 game for Westbrook and the Thunder as the supporting cast didn’t really do a whole lot. The Thunder shot a combined 36.7 percent from the field outside of Westbrook, with George and Schroder chipping in with 15 points apiece. This team is far too talented for this minimal output by everybody else.
Three-Point Shooting: The Thunder struggled from distance tonight, shooting 11-of-44 from three. Ferguson came into tonight shooting 28.9 percent from beyond the arc over the Thunder’s last nine games and those percentages only got worse after tonight, going 2-of-8 from three. Ferguson missed a wide-open corner three in the final two minutes that would’ve given the Thunder the lead. This team desperately needs his shooting.
Fouling Out: Clips of Russ & PG’s sixth fouls below.