Who won the trade? 5 takeaways as Clippers beat Thunder for sixth win in row
No defender made James Harden work harder for his points in last season’s playoffs than Oklahoma City’s Luguentz Dort, a stocky, little-known player.
If the performance didn’t make Dort a household name, it made sure he was a fixture of every scouting report. He has been a pain for opposing stars ever since, and was on the hip of Clippers star Kawhi Leonard from the start Friday at Staples Center.
He was there again in the third quarter, blocking Leonard’s path to the hoop with his body and keeping a hand in Leonard’s face as the Clippers star turned for a jump shot. Oklahoma City, with no marquee names on its roster and a 27-point, first-half deficit, never went away. But in the end, the Clippers’ star power took over to push them to their sixth consecutive victory, 120-106.
It was obvious, once again, why the Clippers (12-4) fought to keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of the 2019 trade with the Thunder (6-8). The point guard was coming off an outstanding rookie season and the Clippers coveted the idea of having him on the roster for years.
He scored 30 points to go with eight assists to lead Oklahoma City, using his crossover to slice through the paint.
But it also was obvious, again, why the Clippers pulled the trigger on the trade that netted them Paul George and the free-agent commitment of Leonard. George scored 29 points with seven rebounds and five assists, while Leonard had a game-high 31 points — with all but three points scored inside the three-point arc as he bullied his way to jumpers and layups.
After struggling early in his new role as a sub, Clippers center Ivica Zubac had his most impactful game this season Wednesday against Sacramento.
A dip from deep
The overarching question during the Clippers’ winning streak had become how long they could sustain their league-leading 44% three-point shooting. Friday was a good reminder that it won’t always last.
When the Clippers made one of 10 three-pointers in the third quarter, it was their worst-shooting quarter from deep since their streak began Jan. 10, and it left their once-27-point lead in jeopardy.
The Thunder, despite having endured their own ghastly stretch from deep, making just two of their first 21 three-pointers, trimmed that deficit to 10 late in the quarter and stayed within striking distance for the first minutes of the fourth quarter, as well. The most striking elements of the Clippers’ cold night shooting from deep were the off nights of Leonard, a 44% shooter this season who made one of seven three-pointers, and Luke Kennard, a 51% shooter who went 0 for 5.
Attack the rim
Even before their third-quarter scoring outage from behind the arc, this was a game in which the Clippers played dramatically against type. Only Portland and Phoenix had scored fewer points in the paint per game this season than the Clippers, for whom close shots haven’t been as prioritized as open looks (often from behind the arc).
Yet when the Thunder started a lineup without anyone taller than 6 feet 8, and with only one player older than 22, the Clippers shifted into a basket-attacking focus, scoring 34 points in the paint in the first half alone. Their best offensive players took advantage: 12 of George and Leonard’s combined 33 first-half points were scored at the rim.
Highlights from the Clippers’ 120-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Ibaka’s impact back
After an impactful start with his new team, Serge Ibaka’s influence had begun to wane in recent games. The floor-spacing center had made just one three-pointer in his last four games while grabbing more than seven rebounds just once in his last nine. It was why his 17-point, 11-rebound performance Friday was so noticeable.
Ibaka made all five of his shots, including a three-pointer, and grabbed eight rebounds in the first half against the Thunder, helping him produce only his second double-double this season.
Happy daddy Batum
Forward Nicolas Batum welcomed the birth of his second child, a daughter named Nayeli, on Friday yet was warming up on the court an hour before tipoff. The team awaited clearance from the NBA to see whether the new father would be eligible to play, coach Tyronn Lue said, and Batum went on to play 33 minutes, scoring 14 points.
The team’s public-address announcer even gave Batum’s daughter a shout-out on the videoboard during the first quarter.
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