Avery Bradley sat at his locker as the countdown clock to tipoff dipped under an hour Friday, his headphones in, and studied highlights of Oklahoma City playing on the opposite wall.
Across the room his companion in the Clippers’ starting backcourt, Patrick Beverley, walked in from a pregame workout. To those not wearing headphones, he asked a question: Was Russell Westbrook going to play?
The guards have history. In the 2013 NBA playoffs, Westbrook’s season ended after injuring a knee while being guarded by Beverley, who then played for Houston. The two have traded words ever since. In the 2017 playoffs, Beverley said a big scoring night by Westbrook had been wildly inefficient. Hearing that, Westbrook said Beverley wasn’t as good a defender as he claimed.
Beverley looked disappointed when told the All-Star would miss his second consecutive game while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Yet if he didn’t get the matchup he’d wanted, he got something better — a 108-92 victory.
It was the result of a fourth quarter almost identical to that of Wednesday’s season-opening loss to Denver, except for the ending.
Like Wednesday, the Clippers rallied to take a lead midway through the final quarter.
Instead of substituting out a lineup featuring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lou Williams and Boban Marjanovic that sparked the run, this time coach Doc Rivers stuck with those reserves to the end.
Rivers called a timeout with 4:23 remaining as a breather for the group, which finished on an 18-2 run.
“When we went with the bench guys they just played spectacular,” Rivers said.
“The defense played great.”
Oklahoma City, which shot 35.8% for the game, scored just 15 points in the fourth quarter and star Paul George couldn’t overcome the absence of Westbrook, scoring 20 points on seven-of-27 shooting.
Danilo Gallinari scored 26 points in 26 minutes, tying Tobias Harris for the game high in scoring, and “saved the game for us,” Rivers said.
Gallinari scored 10 points in the third and left the game with two minutes left in the quarter, having kept the Clippers within range of a comeback.
“He’s the player of this game,” Bradley said. “He kept us in the game and I think it gave us a little energy.”
Williams scored 17 points. Beverley finished one for five from the field and is now one for 13 in two games.
Oklahoma City trailed by 16 and didn’t score for the game’s first 3 minutes and 48 seconds while looking every part of a team that had spent its last two days enjoying Los Angeles.
But midway through the second quarter, the score was tied at 35.
Less than a minute into the third quarter, the Thunder took their first lead on a corner three-pointer by Patrick Patterson. Their lead eventually grew to nine.
With a 10-2 run the Clippers retook the lead midway through the final quarter. A layup by Marjanovic, who finished with 13 points in 16 minutes, with five minutes to play drew wild roars, as has become custom for anything the big man does. The shot-clock violation the Clippers forced on the next possession turned the volume up another notch.
“This time we played much more aggressive and much tougher,” Marjanovic said.
The Thunder held the Clippers to 43.8% shooting despite playing without arguably their best defender in forward Andre Roberson, who watched in street clothes.
Westbrook was ruled out earlier in the day following a post-shootaround workout. He has yet to be cleared to participate in full-contact play, coach Billy Donovan said.