Photo Credits: Coby Van Loan/OKC Thunder
Entering their second game of a five-game road stand, the Oklahoma City Thunder stumbled to the Los Angeles Clippers 120-106. For the Thunder, this loss pushed them to 6-8 while also handing them their fourth loss in their past five games. As for the Clippers, this decisive victory game them a 12-4 record, good for the best record in the league. The only competition standing in their way of the first seed now are the Lakers (12-4), and Jazz (11-4).
The Clippers surrounded their offensive efforts around the dynamic duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This bolstering combo provided the team with 60 of their 120 points. Leonard found his stride working the mid-range and inside shots amounting to 31 points on 10-21 shooting (1-7 3pt.) Paul George on the other hand drained shots from all over the court for 29 points on 10-19 shooting. The majority of George’s heavy-lifting came in the first half, going for 16 points on 7-8 shooting, with his only miss being a prayer at the buzzer.
Behind the commanders, two more Clippers managed to drop double-digits in Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum, who dropped 17 and 14 respectively. Ibaka made his mark crashing the boards, posting the game-high of 11 in the rebound category. His efforts of enmeshing the ball off misses came on both ends of the floor, with four of his snags coming on offense. These offensive boards gave room for some easy buckets around the basket for Serge, with all but one of his shots coming from down low. Nicolas Batum played the role of “glue-guy” in Friday’s contest, filling in whatever role the team needed. The role– shooting the basketball. Batum was left wide open from deep, teed off by consecutive extra passes from his teammates. Batum poured on 4 threes, going a perfect 4-4 from downtown.
Oklahoma City never led in this game past the 9:26 mark in the first, but their drive to stay in this game in nothing short of admirable. The Thunder found themselves in a 18-36 hole by the end of the first, and the deficit expanded to 27 by the second, but the team never folded. The Clippers 27-point lead was scraped to 17 by half, and been drained to 10 off a 15-2 Thunder run in the third. The Thunder never cracked this game wide open in the fourth but they were matching their opponent blow-for-blow by the end of things.
Oklahoma City notched five players in double digits in Dort, Hill, Muscala, and Diallo, but none matched to that of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA racked up 30 points and 8 assists by the closing of Friday’s battle, but his performance will be talked about far longer than just the morning papers. The Thunder guard started off a cool 2-7 in the first, but he got his act together going 9-13 for the last three quarters of the game. His 30 points were practically all off of double-teams as the Clippers were daring him to dump the ball out for threes. Originally, Gilgeous-Alexander did just that dishing up triples for everyone on the team, but no one was able to convert. In fact, Oklahoma City shot 0-12 from distance in the first, and just 7-27 (25.9%) by half. Once SGA switched his focus to attack mode, he not only got himself open off step back triples. and simple drives, but he took the Clippers defenders on a ride. The 22-year-old’s highlight reel showed a variety of attacks, but his most glamorous came off a fade on Marcus Morris, and a reverse layup on Serge Ibaka, positioning Ibaka right under the rim for zero contest.
SGA’s intuition to pass to open players did not pay off early, but by the end of the night, everyone was reaping benefits. Largely in part to his passing, OKC shot 7-15 (47%) from three in the second and actually outperformed the Clippers 33% to 30% from downtown in the entirety of the game.
The driving forces from the Clippers victory on Friday can be chalked up to extra passes, rebounding, and the charity stripe. Though the Clips actually lost the assists battle 21-24, their extra passes to create shot early set the tone for this game. Six of the Clippers first ten made field goals came off assists, and this mindset of making the extra pass held true the whole contest. Oklahoma City fell victim to 1-on-1 penetrations from Leonard and George, resulting in over-helping from the surrounding Thunder members, leaving Clippers on an island outside (where they made 10 threes.) Los Angeles took advantage of Horford’s absence, taking 55 rebounds in the contest, to OKC’s slim 36. The tide-shifting factor from this game through was the free-throw line. Los Angeles took the Thunder in it’s grip, forcing them to play passive a majority of the game. The Clippers finagled their way into the shooting bonus by the ten minute mark in the final period, and it paid off shooting 24-25 from the line to OKC’s 10-13.
Oklahoma City will have a chance to regroup and improve upon Friday’s mistakes as they will take on the Clippers yet again in a baseball-esque two-game series on Sunday.