Conversations inside the visitors’ locker room were quiet and brief Tuesday night in Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Clippers wordlessly filed in and out of a small connecting room where catered food was served in aluminum trays.
Forward Danilo Gallinari emerged quietly and sat in a folding chair. His clutch play in the first half against the Thunder had long since become moot during a disastrous second half in which the Clippers were overwhelmed en route to a 128-110 defeat. Gallinari ate a plate of chicken at his locker, but took a helping of frustration to go.
“We’re mad,” he said. “We’re mad, and we can’t wait to play the next one.”
The Clippers (4-3) lost control of their offense and focus Tuesday when pushed by a two-superstar team that had yet to play up to lofty preseason expectations. They departed Oklahoma City the next day understanding a similar challenge awaits Thursday in Philadelphia against Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The 76ers advanced to last season's Eastern Conference semifinals behind Simmons, the league’s rookie of the year, and Embiid, a prototypical floor-spacing big man for basketball’s modern era. So far, last season’s hot finish has yet to carry over: The 76ers are 4-4 after a 17-point defeat Tuesday in Toronto.
Considering they began this season calling grittiness their defining characteristic, the Clippers’ response to Tuesday’s litany of breakdowns during the final two games of this three-game road trip will be watched closely for indications whether their encouraging start is for real or was the result of catching playoff contenders at less than full strength.
The Clippers play in Orlando on Friday in their first back-to-back.
“It’s going to be a test,” Gallinari said. "Mentally we are a strong team and I’m sure that we will be able to play very good both games for 48 minutes.”
The Clippers were sensational for just 24 against the Thunder. Tobias Harris scored nine points in the second quarter and was a stabilizing force as the Thunder trimmed a double-digit deficit against a three-guard lineup of L.A. reserves. Gallinari hit a three-pointer in the final minute before halftime that gave him 23 points, the most in a half in his 10 seasons.
When the Clippers returned to the court after halftime, a dramatic change had occurred.
“We came out kind of cool and relaxed and they picked up their intensity,” guard Avery Bradley said. “The basketball gods [say] the guys that play tougher, they dictate the game and that’s what they did. They dictated all the calls, everything, in the second half.”
After halftime the Clippers made one of their nine three-point attempts, committed 15 turnovers and allowed a 20-0 Thunder run. Oklahoma City shot better than 50% from the field and three-point range against the league's second-best field-goal percentage defense.
“We have to bounce back,” Harris said. "As a team, as a unit, we have to be better. We gotta bring it. We said in the beginning that road games are going to be games we have to be locked in and focus for four quarters.
“Tonight we weren’t there in our approach, especially in the third quarter. We have something to prove next game.”
They arrived in Philadelphia knowing they've spun a loss into a positive before. Eight fourth-quarter turnovers stopped a rally short in New Orleans on Oct. 23 and, annoyed that careless mistakes cost them a win against one of the NBA's hottest teams, the Clippers rebounded by routing Houston by 20 three nights later. They crushed the dysfunctional Washington Wizards by 32 after that. To coach Doc Rivers, the attitude he saw in the practices after New Orleans indicated his team despised losing.
Now comes another chance for a rebound. One week after the deflating loss in New Orleans, the Clippers' puzzling second half Tuesday ate at them.
“This is an important road trip, just like every road trip, especially against Eastern Conference teams,” Gallinari said. “We need to win both games.”
When: Thursday, 4 p.m. PDT
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