After a terrible start that resulted in the Thunder falling behind 8-0 to the Clippers on the road last night, OKC began playing some of the best basketball they have all season. They came back quickly and eventually took the lead, one that grew to as many as 12 at one point.
Then Blake Griffin did that thing that Blake Griffin does. Serge Ibaka stuffed his shot, Ibaka was called for the foul, and then Griffin went all passive aggressive, locking up Ibaka’s arm until Serge through him down. Enter Matt Barnes, who decided to then shove Ibaka right in the chest. A scrum ensued, Ibaka balled his fist, but nothing else really happened. Barnes and Ibaka were tossed, for continuing on with the altercation instead of stepping down, a punishment in Ibaka’s case that seemed far too unfair.
The Thunder still led by nine at halftime, but the Clippers outscored OKC 30-16 in the third to take the lead and go on to get the win. The Thunder never quit, and a small lineup with Kevin Durant at the four was deadly during a late comeback, but not solid enough on the defensive end.
I look at this game with extreme disappointment, mostly because it feels like the Thunder really got screwed. Ibaka was playing extremely well, shooting 6-for-6 from the field for 13 points before the ejection. The Clippers, who have been pretty poor defensively this season, could not contain Westbrook and Durant and a rolling Ibaka to the rim. It looked as if the Thunder were well on their way to a very convincing road win against a team that is supposed to be one of the contenders in the Western Conference.
But the Thunder seemingly lost all positive momentum without Ibaka in the second half. For some reason, Ryan Gomes started the third quarter in his place, and Perry Jones didn’t even appear in the second half. Nick Collison was in foul trouble and Kendrick Perkins was unavailable because of a death in the family. Hasheem Thabeet was just terrible as well.
We were robbed of a chance to really see how these teams stacked up last night. What that also means is that we shouldn’t be worried that the Thunder ultimately lost the game. Their frontline was suddenly depleted against the Clippers, a team in which you don’t want that to be a problem.
Westbrook shot 7-for-18 from the field, but was a terror to the Clippers’ defense pretty much all game long. No one could stay in front of him, he just still is having some trouble finishing at the rim. He and Durant both had 10 assists and got them with relative ease. The Thunder did have a big issue with 22 turnovers, a really high number that’s uncharacteristic of them this season.
The Clippers cannot guard Durant. Barnes is a decent option on him, but no one else really can guard him at all. Whenever that’s the case in a matchup, it’s hard not to like the Thunder. If Durant can go out and have huge all-around games against a team, chances are OKC will win that series.
Durant is also on a tear from the free throw line this year. He’s on pace to crush the single-season record for free throws made, as he is on pace to make 995. Of course, it’s really early on and some of Durant’s high free throw numbers is because of him struggling with his shot. But a lot of them still come in the flow, because he is making better decisions the more experienced he gets.
With Ibaka out, the Thunder desperately needed a third guy to step up, which flat out didn’t happen. Jeremy Lamg was 0-for-5 from the field and never found any kind of rhythm. Regge Jackson had nine points and four assists but some costly turnovers late. And who else would you even expect on the Thunder to step up? Thabo is still ice cold from behind the line and Collison, Adams and Jones just aren’t those kinds of guys. I think there is less of a margin for error with this Thunder team, something that has been very evident as they have played a few games this season without key players.
The Thunder will have another really tough test tonight, on the road for a back-to-back against the Warriors. The Warriors will score points, even against the toughest of defenses. Their defense is improved to and Andre Iguodala will be as good of a defender as any in trying to slow down Durant, who may also be a little burnt out after playing 42 minutes last night and the entire second half.
Going into these two, tough road matchups, the Thunder wanted to at least win one of them. Now it looks like they are in a position where they could easily lose them both. OKC is typically not a team that loses twice in a row, but this isn’t your typical two-game stretch.
It’s important to remember though just how early we are in this season. Last night’s loss wasn’t bad at the end of the day, but it still stings and goes against the Thunder’s W-L.