Thunderous Intentions will begin to preview the 2012-13 NBA season by going through every team in the league and breaking down how they match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Be sure to check out the previous matchups we have previewed: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers.
Los Angeles Clippers Team Overview
The Clippers went from a laughing stock of a franchise to a serious contender last season and acquiring Chris Paul at the start of the season had everything to do with it.
Paul was fantastic last season leading the Clippers to a 40-26 record and 5-seed in the Western Conference. The Clips upset the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs but then were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
The Clippers are looking to build on their success from last season now. They have acquired Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill this summer as well as Ryan Hollins, Willie Green and Ronny Turiaf. The Clippers are parting ways with Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Nick Young and Ryan Gomes.
The biggest news though was extending Blake Griffin for five years, $95 million. Paul is set to become a free agent after next season and having Griffin on the books for five years will only help in keeping Paul as well.
The Oklahoma City Thunder played the Clippers four times last season and lost to them three times.
In the first meeting, the Clippers won 112-100 in L.A. on Jan. 30 in a game that was highlighted by Griffin’s dunk on Kendrick Perkins. Griffin had 22 points in the game while Paul had 26 points and 14 assists.
The Clippers shot 56.3 percent from the field and made 13-of-25 threes.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 36 points and 13 rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 31 points. James Harden started in place of Thabo Sefolosha, played 42 minutes and scored just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
The Thunder beat the Clippers 114-91 in OKC in their next meeting. Durant had 32, Westbrook had 19 and Harden struggled again with just 10.
The Thunder shot 53.8 percent from the field while the Clippers shot just 36.7 percent.
Paul made a layup over Serge Ibaka in the final seconds of their third meeting to lift the Clippers past OKC 100-98. Paul finished with 31 in the game. Durant had 22, Westbrook 20 and Harden 17.
The Clippers won again five days later in L.A. 92-77. It was one of the worst games of the year for the Thunder who shot 37.5 percent from the field, made 5-of-22 threes and 18-of-29 free throws.
Durant had 24, Westbrook had just nine and Harden 12. Griffin led the Clippers with 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Durant averaged 28.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in the season series vs. the Clippers. He shot .475 percent from the field, .333 percent from three and .857 percent from the line.
Westbrook averaged 19.8 points and 4.5 assists per game. He shot .368 percent from the field and .176 percent from three while attempting 4.3 threes per game.
Harden averaged 11.5 points per game and shot .361 percent from the field, .391 percent from three and .733 percent from the line while attempting only 3.8 free throws per game.
Paul averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 assists per game. He shot .517 percent from the field and .929 percent from the line.
The Clippers had the 7th best offense in the league in terms of points per possession. They were 8th best on spot-up plays and 4th best on pick-and-roll plays, two areas that Paul really influenced for them.
The Thunder were just 11th best against the pick-and-roll last year and that’s where the Clippers and Paul picked them apart. Paul works the pick-and-roll as well as any point guard in the league and did so especially against the aggressive Westbrook in this matchup.
The Clippers also had the best isolation PPP in the league which was also led by Paul.
The Clippers’ defense was only 17th best overall. The Thunder still struggled against them in many of the games but it could have been a sort of fluke. In a playoff series, the Thunder should have been able to figure them out and start scoring more efficiently.
They were 19th best vs. isolation plays and 18th best vs. pick-and-roll plays.
The Thunder and Clippers will play three times next year. The first meeting will come early on in the season in Oklahoma City on Nov. 21, then in L.A. Jan. 22 and finally in L.A. again on March 3.
The Chris Paul-era for the Clippers has rejuvenated this franchise. They will be a much deeper team next year and in the second season with Paul, should see an improvement all-around.
The Clippers obviously matched up with the Thunder pretty well last season and should play them very tough again next year. Westbrook really needs to play more disciplined and under control vs. Paul to give the Thunder a better chance of winning.
Harden also needs to give OKC more in this matchup. The athletic bigs on the inside make it hard for Harden to attack the paint and he will have to pick and choose his spots better in future meetings.
The Clippers are in the small group along with the Thunder of teams that can legitimately compete for a title next season. With Paul at the helm, this will always be the case, despite Vinny Del Negro.