For the Oklahoma City Thunder, their win over the Los Angeles Clippers was more than just another regular season game. It was more than just a clash against a conference rival (and against a team where there is no love lost) and it wasn’t just about creating some space between the two sides in the Western Conference and tying the regular season series. This win was about belief. Belief in their structure, their team, their resolves, their skill and their ability to adapt and rise to the challenge.
In short, this was a huge win for OKC.
Russell Westbrook was in uniform and his minutes are starting to increase as the regular season draws to a close and as the playoff matchups start to take shape. The Thunder also had Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup, allowing the Thunder to get their regular starting rotation on the court together for the first time since mid-February. Not a moment too soon either as the Thunder really needed to get a good gauge of where they were at and how everything would look as they start to look towards the post-season.
Let’s begin by acknowledging the fact that this was the worst shooting night of the season for Kevin Durant. For someone who has created such a stir through his effective and efficient scoring, the front runner for the MVP award and the almost certain scoring champ suffered through a bit of a slump. While he would still end up with 27 points, this type of performance was an anomaly and something you will rarely see again.
With the superstar struggling, the rest of the team operated exactly as they should – by picking up the slack. They didn’t go away from Durant, but they made sure each and every one of them stood up and was counted when it mattered. Russell Westbrook was superb and looking exactly like the Russ of old as he scored at will, hounded the opposition and created turnovers and opportunities. While he didn’t single-handedly win this game, you could mount a pretty strong case for his performance.
Thabo made the defensive plays when he needed too. While he didn’t shoot well and still seems to second-guess himself and hesitate a LOT, he was exactly as advertised. Kendrick Perkins would normally be seen as a bit of a liability against a team like the Clippers who love the pick and roll and have athletic big men, but Perk held his own. He made all three of his shot attempts and made it very difficult inside for DeAndre Jordan. He also played a key role in getting a stop on Chris Paul at a pivotal point of the game.
The reserves have a slightly different look now than they did at the start of the season and we saw Caron Butler, Steve Adams and Reggie Jackson all play a role. We probably saw a little too much Derek Fisher and not enough Jeremy Lamb, but that balance will be on a game by game basis and with the end result being a W, it is hard to criticize the strategy.
Defensively, the Thunder held the Clippers to just 42% shooting for the game and 30% from behind the arc. In previous games, the Thunder have struggled to curtail teams who shoot the ball well from range, but they had a clear focus to get out to the shooters, make it difficult and run them off the line. It worked. While OKC shot the ball poorly from deep themselves (largely due to Durant’s 1 for 7 from down town) it didn’t come back to bite them due to their defense.
While they did manage to blow a 17 point lead, the positive is that they were able to create a big lead in the first place. They will also take pride in the fact that when they lost the momentum and nearly the lead, they were able to steady themselves, regain their focus and make the right play when required. Russ was instrumental and seemed to will himself to grab crucial rebounds when they counted – and it went a long way to securing the game.
All in all, the boxscore reads a six point win to the Thunder over a very tough Clipper team. In essence, the game and the result was a lot bigger than that.
Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder