Clippers can't keep up with Thunder, 109-97

Even with this being only January, the Clippers and Oklahoma City were fully aware that the best record in the NBA was at stake when they played Tuesday night at Staples Center.

For the Clippers, it meant having to play with Chris Paul sitting out because of a bruised right kneecap.

Not having Paul for this encounter was too much for the Clippers to overcome, especially with the Thunder going off from three-point range during a 109-97 victory.

"Obviously, we didn't have our general out there," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about missing Paul. "But that's no excuse. We've still got plenty of guys. We gave up too many threes, especially in the second half."

The Clippers have had problems much of this season defending three-pointers, and it was no different against the Thunder.

Oklahoma City made 55.6% (15 for 27) of its three-pointers, 64% (11 for 17) in the second half.

That was one reason for the loss, which left the Clippers (32-11) with the third-best record in the NBA.

They are 11/2 games behind the league-leading Thunder and a half-game behind the San Antonio Spurs.

Another big reason for the loss was the play of Kevin Durant.

Durant had 24 of his 32 points in the second half, 13 in the decisive fourth quarter.

He also had seven rebounds and seven assists. Durant was 12 for 19 from the field, five for six from three-point range.

"We were doubling him and he's hitting fade-aways and threes in his range and he can take you off the dribble," Del Negro said about Durant. "I just don't think we did a very good job overall defensively on anybody, but especially against him."

Russell Westbrook had 26 points, six assists and four rebounds. He made three of six from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka had 17 points, nine rebounds and even he made a three-pointer.

For the Clippers, Blake Griffin had 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

Eric Bledsoe, who started at point guard in place of Paul, had 12 points in 35 minutes. Jamal Crawford missed 12 of 18 shots.

"We've got to play better than we did tonight," Del Negro said. "I didn't think we executed some of our coverages. They got the three-ball going."

In the third quarter, the Thunder made six of seven three-pointers. It made 75% of its shots in the third quarter in opening a 16-point lead.

And the Thunder seemed to just be warming up from three-point range.

In the fourth quarter, the Thunder knocked in four consecutive three-pointers, opening a 99-82 lead that was too much for the Clippers.

Durant had two of the three-pointers, Westbrook one and power forward Ibaka made a three from the corner that forced the Clippers to call a timeout.

It was poor three-point defense that helped do in the Clippers against the Golden State Warriors on Monday.

The Warriors made 54.5% of their three-pointers in their victory over the Clippers.

"OKC is one of the top three-point shooting teams, along with Golden State," Del Negro said. "But we have to do a better job there. There's no question."

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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