After one of the most gut-wrenching weeks in Clippers history, concluding with a hard-fought- come-from-behind Game 7 win on Saturday, no one would have argued if the Clippers came out flat.
But what there was no arguing about was how doiminating the Clippers were Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City as they took a 122-105 victory over the Thunder in the opener of the Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday in OKC.
Chris Paul was absolutely phenomenal, making his first eight three-point shots. He finished the game with 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting, eight of nine from three-point range. If his hamstring was bothering him, there was no telling it Monday.
Asked to explain his night Paul was less than revealing.
“I don’t know,” Paul said. “It just felt good tonight.”
Also coming up big was Blake Griffin, who finished with 23 points.
The Clippers finished the game shooting 55% (45 for 82) from the field. The biggest Clipper lead was 29 points.
Jamal Crawford, who will be named the NBA’s sixth man of the year on Tuesday, lived up to that honor scoring 17 off the bench.
The Thunder actually led midway through the first quarter, 16-10, but Paul then made five three-pointers en route to a 39-25 lead in the first quarter. In the NBA you’re never sure, but at that point the Thunder was done.
The Thunder got some good offense from their two stars. Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting and a strong 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. Kevin Durant finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
Did that make Durant “unreliable” as his local paper dubbed him in the Memphis series? We’ll leave that up to The Oklahoman to decide.
Midway through the third quarter, Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks, desperate for an answer, went to the hack-a-Jordan strategy on center DeAndre Jordan. It worked as Jordan made only one of eight, but it really didn’t matter as the Thunder still couldn’t gain any traction.
So, will the Clippers play the traditional lay down game that a team usually endures after winning the first game of the series on the road? Or is there a karma going for a team that was devastated by comments of their owner, Donald Sterling, who has been banned for life by the NBA?
Paul has some insight into what the Clippers have to do.
“We just have to understand that we not are no going into Game 2 with a 17-point lead,” Paul said.
Clippers 104, Thunder 78 (end of third quarter)
If you are the Clippers, how do you protect a 17-point lead? Or, maybe it’s the protecting part that gets you in trouble. But not tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
The Clippers not only held the lead but extended it to 26 points, taking a 104-78 lead into the final 12 minutes.
You can probably expect Clippers point guard Chris Paul to get some rest in the final quarter after a phenomenal performance that had him making 12 of 14 shots, including eight of nine from the three-point line. The totals: 32 points and eight assists.
Not to be overlooked is Blake Griffin, who had 23 points on 7 of 16 shooting.
The Thunder have been led by Russell Westbrook (29 points) and Kevin Durant (25).
The quarter opened with a DeAndre Jordan basket but then Durant and Westbrook scored to close the margin to 15 points. But then a three-pointer by Paul (seven for seven), a two by J.J. Redick and another bucket by Paul forced Scott Brooks to call a timeout with the Thunder behind by 22 points with 9:09 to play in the quarter.
Baskets by Jordan and Redick upped it to an 11-0 run by the Clippers until Kendrick Perkins scored for Thunder, making the score, 82-58.
The Clippers just didn’t seem to let up, especially Paul, who missed his first three-pointer with 5:21 to play. That after making his first eight.
Blake Griffin gave the Clippers a 25-point lead with 5:02 left in the quarter and it looked as if the Clippers had the game in hand.
With 4:02 to play in the quarter, Brooks went to a different strategy: hack-a-Jordan. It worked for the first four attempts before Jordan made his fifth but missed his sixth. With 2:55 to play, Jordan missed two more free throws.
But it didn’t really matter as the Clippers continued to hold a 20-plus point lead.
Lawler’s Law kicked in with 1:44 to play off a Jamal Crawford three giving the Clippers a 100-76 lead.
Clippers 69, Thunder 52 (halftime)
Wow, what a first half by the Clippers.
If there was any hangover from Saturday’s come-from-behind Game 7 win over the Golden State Warriors it sure wasn’t evident tonight.
The Clippers came out blistering hot behind Chris Paul to take a 69-52 halftime lead. You read that right, the Clippers nearly scored 70 points to take a 17-point lead at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
What can you say about Paul? He was eight of nine from the field, including an incredible six of six from three-point range. He finished the half with 22 points and six assists.
He wasn’t the only hot Clipper as the team shot 56.5% (26 of 46) from the field. Blake Griffin had 11 points and Matt Barnes added 10.
One telling stat was turnovers, with OKC committing 10 to the Clippers’ three.
It’s no surprise the Thunder was led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who each scored 16.
Both Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and Thunder Coach Scott Brooks opened the second quarter with their usual rotation, playing mostly second teamers. And, so there wasn’t a lot of scoring in the first three minutes of the quarter.
But with Jamal Crawford, the Clippers have the best sixth man in the game, an honor that will be announced on Tuesday. He made two free throws and a basket to stretch the Clippers’ lead to 16 points with 8:46 to play in the half.
The Clippers upped it to 18 points with Danny Granger making three free throws after being fouled by former Clipper Caron Butler.
The lead was at 19 points, 54-35, with 6:11 until halftime when Rivers put Paul and Griffin back in the game. After a slow start, it was a nice run by the second team. The Clippers’ reserves had outscored the Thunder group, 17-4.
Back-to-back baskets by Durant and Westbrook forced Rivers into calling a timeout with 5:25 left And, you guess that’s why Rivers makes $7 million a season.
Griffin made a basket, then one of two free throws and Paul made his sixth three-pointer to give the Clippers a 21-point lead. Then after Westbrook made a couple free throws, Griffin scored and Barnes made a three to give the Clippers a 24-point lead with less than three minutes to play in the quarter.
The Thunder was able to close it to 17 points by the end of the quarter when Durant made the first of two free throws and Serge Ibaka put-back his miss.
Clippers 39, Thunder 25 (end of first quarter)
Those expecting a wide-open offensive series were not disappointed in the first quarter Monday night. And if you are a Clippers fan, you really liked it.
Kevin Durant seemed anything but unreliable. Serge Ibaka showed he would be a factor in the series. Blake Griffin proved he’s grown a lot this season. And Chris Paul was, well, Chris Paul.
After the first 12 minutes, the Clippers had a 39-25 lead.
The Clippers looked strong out of the gate, taking leads of 4-0 and 6-3. But it was clear the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City belonged to the Thunder in the very early going. Oklahoma City took its first lead with 8:12 to play, 12-10, and then built it to 16-10 on baskets by Ibaka and Russell Westbrook.
But the Clippers came back after three pointers by J.J. Redick and Paul, who finished the quarter five for five on three-pointers and 17 points.
Two three-pointers by Paul sandwiched around a Russell Westbrook jumper gave the Clippers a 24-20 lead with 4:09 left in the quarter. Then Redick, Matt Barnes (a three-pointer) and Paul all scored to give the Clippers a 31-20 lead and a 22-4 run.
Things didn’t get much better for the Thunder as the Clippers closed the quarter with two more Paul threes and a bucket by Crawford. Durant got three points over the last couple minutes and finished the quarter with 10 points on three-for-five shooting.
The Clippers finished the quarter making 16 of 24 (67%) shots from the field.
They will likely cool off, but the question remains, how much?
Well that wasn’t much of a break. The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder are back on the court tonight, each having just finished grueling seven-game series in the first round of the NBA playoffs on Saturday night.
But it’s a little tougher for the Clippers, who had to fly to Oklahoma for tonight’s Game 1 in the conference semifinals. Game 2 will be Wednesday in Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Games 3 and 4 will be in Staples Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The interesting matchups to watch will be the Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook going against Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul and Oklahoma City power forward Serge Ibaka, a defensive stalwart, taking on L.A. All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. What big name hasn’t been mentioned? It’s Kevin Durant, who the Clippers seem to have no easy answer for. Keeping the four-time scoring champion from having a lot of monster games could be a key to the Clippers.
Durant was certainly missing for some of the Memphis series, causing The Oklahoman newspaper to put in big, bold letters a headline that said “Mr. Unreliable.” No doubt inundated with complaints, the sports editor of the paper offered up an apology.
The Clippers were listed as five-point underdogs, the first time they’ve been picked to lose since the start of the playoffs. Will it happen? We’ll know in a few hours.