Oklahoma City shows Clippers the superpower of experience
Serge Ibaka’s vicious right hand to the groin of Blake Griffin late in the fourth quarter Sunday served as only a prelude to the real smackdown administered by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Boom! Russell Westbrook accelerated past a bevy of defenders for a layup, the Thunder point guard wiping out a Clippers lead that lasted all of five seconds.
Whack! Ibaka took a pass from Westbrook and made a layup while drawing Griffin’s sixth foul, the final indignity of a maddening afternoon for the Clippers power forward.
Pow! Westbrook swished a baseline jumper to secure the victory and remained motionless for several seconds, his legs frozen, his stare icy.
Oklahoma City left the Clippers staggering after the breathless final 85 seconds of a 108-104 triumph at Staples Center.
When things got crazy, the Thunder evoked an aura of been there, won that.
“Sometimes you need stuff like that to get the team going,” Westbrook said.
For the Clippers, it was more like still needing directions to get there.
“We’re playing against a team that has been through the war,” Clippers veteran forward Lamar Odom said. “They know what it takes to get there and lose and have that bad taste in their mouth. ... It’s the learning process. It’s not going to be easy.”
Oklahoma City sure made it look that way after Ibaka leveled Griffin with a wild swing of his arm with 1:52 left. The play earned the Thunder forward a flagrant 1 foul while triggering a seven-point possession for the Clippers that started with Matt Barnes’ three-pointer from the corner, continued with Griffin making one of two free throws and ended with Jamal Crawford’s three-pointer after a couple of offensive rebounds.
Ibaka proclaimed his innocence, saying Griffin had grabbed his jersey and he was trying to brush away his counterpart’s hands while battling for position underneath the basket.
“If you can see the play,” Ibaka said, “you can see he grabbed my jersey first, so I wanted to try to defend myself but not to hurt him.”
Too bad the replays only reinforced Ibaka’s guilt, the violent downward swooping motion of his arm appearing premeditated.
Meanwhile, the Clippers had fallen and could get up only momentarily.
After Crawford’s three-pointer gave the Clippers a 100-99 lead with 1:30 remaining, the game was theirs for the taking. None of their 16 first-half turnovers or early foul troubles mattered.
But Chris Paul missed a short jumper, Griffin negated his own putback by pushing Thabo Sefolosha in the back and the Thunder was on its way to securing a 3-0 sweep in the regular-season series with the Clippers.
Westbrook led by more than his passing and shotmaking. His words in the timeout huddles and on the court also mattered.
“Stay focused, man,” Westbrook said he told his teammates. “They’re going to make a run, just keep your composure and stay focused and know the job at hand.”
Westbrook wasn’t glaring at the Clippers after making that 16-footer from the baseline that gave the Thunder a four-point lead with 26 seconds left.
Turns out that gaze was for his dad.
“I was looking at my dad because I missed this corner baseline shot a couple of years back” against the Lakers in the playoffs, Westbrook said. “I’ll always remember I missed a baseline shot and every time we work out in the summertime we always talk about hitting that shot and I hit it.”
It would be a recurring theme in the final minutes. The Thunder kept connecting when it mattered.
The Clippers were simply amiss.
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