Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

If you thought the Thunder-Grizzlies series was a nail-biter, you may not be ready for Thunder-Clippers. People who are sans fingernails from the Thunder’s 7-game showdown with the Grizzlies more than likely won’t make it to the end of this series without experiencing cardiac arrest at some point.

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Make no mistake, these two teams are very evenly matched. If you’re looking for proof of that last statement, look no further than the 2-2 season-series split between both squads. The first matchup was played back on Nov. 13th, and was most notorious for the Serge Ibaka-Matt Barnes double ejection.

I honestly agree with one commenter’s assessment of it. They should have thrown out double Ts and moved on. It was only a little shoving, it’s not like a punch was even thrown. Either way, Ibaka’s ejection proved costly for the Thunder, as the Clippers took that matchup 111-103.

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha's starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha’s starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Matchup #2 gave us a bit of Thunder revenge a mere eight nights later. An out-of-sync Clippers defense allowed 51.9% shooting from the Thunder, and the Thunder went on to a convincing 105-91 outcome. The thing that stuck out to me about that game was towards the end, when Steven Adams goes to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, and Mullens doesn’t even bother to acknowledge him. Adams, crafty big man that he is, decided to remedy the situation in his own way:

Adams: "Good game... or not. Whatever. At least I'm still The Man."

Adams: “Good game… or not. Whatever. At least I’m still The Man.”

The third matchup was played Feb. 23rd, exactly one week after the All-Star game. The Thunder struggled mightily following the All-Star break, but I thought they played the Clippers well here. The defense did everything you can do short of fouling, but Clippers bench player Jamal Crawford was not going to be stopped in that game. I couldn’t believe some of the shots he was making through the defense the Thunder had on him. He had basically no space, hands all up in his line of sight, and he was still draining jumpers, some of them all-net, which was a big factor in getting the Clippers a 125-117 victory. Here’s video of Crawford’s 36-point performance. Your eyes will pop out of your head as you see some of the shots he was hitting.

Less than a month ago, April 9th, saw the last regular-season meeting between the two squads. It was a game the Thunder controlled pretty much the entire way, but a 4th quarter surge by the Clippers nearly stole the victory. the Thunder were able to hold them off at the end for a 107-101 victory.

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

As it pertains to this playoff series, the Thunder are staring down the NBA’s highest scoring team of the regular season (averaging 107.9 points a game). Therefore, the Thunder D will need to be on top of their game at all times. One defensive slip up, and a large enough Clipper run, and the Thunder will see games get away from them. This is a Clipper team that does not let up, and they seem to love the run-and-gun style just as much as the Thunder. The Thunder, on the other hand, counter with the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. According to NBA.com, here are five things to keep an eye on as this series progresses:

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

1) The play of Kevin Durant: He was struggling immensely in the Grizzlies series before a disparaging headline and possible elimination forced him to stop thinking, and start having fun. He went from averaging 28 points on 40% shooting in the first 5 games, to 34.5 points off of 56% shooting in the last 2. He can’t think about things too much. He needs to just go out on the court loose, and treat it like a day at the park. When he just let’s his game flow naturally, he’s at his best. Overanalyzing things has a tendency to hurt an athlete’s overall performance, because then hesitation in said athlete becomes increasingly noticeable. Hesitation in this league can prove very costly. Trust me. This is coming from one of the most notorious overanalyzers on Earth. This is actually the reason I time-crunch assignments in my college courses. Waiting until the last possible second to get my assignments done prevents me from overthinking them, and turning in an incoherent essay with my thoughts all over the place because, “Oh, I just thought of this as well”. Because in all honesty, if certain facts failed to pop in your head as you write something, the thoughts that you omitted are more than likely not that relevant to your topic anyway. But, as you may have noticed, I’m beginning to digress here.

Kendrick Perkins 2014 playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: "You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?")

Kendrick Perkins 2014 Playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: “You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?”)

2) Chris Paul’s sore right hamstring: Sore hamstrings are already tough to deal with on their own, but as Mike Conley proved in Game 7 of the previous series, a sore right hamstring is even tougher to deal with when you’re tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook. While Conley was good for 20 points in that game, he had no answer for Westbrook’s blinding speed. Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10 rebound triple-double put him in some elite company. Paul should still get his numbers, as he posted a 22 point, 14 assist double-double in Game 7 vs. the Warriors. Although now Paul is going to try to accomplish what Conley could not, and try to limit Westbrook’s numbers on a bad hamstring, which is far easier said than done.

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

3) The Ibaka-Griffin matchup: Let’s face it. We all know Blake Griffin is a beast. Oklahoma is familiar with Griffin, seeing as he played his high school and college ball here in the state. Griffin is used to dominating his opposition down low, but Ibaka is not a man who can be dominated very easily, if he can be dominated at all. Plus it seems as though tensions really ratchet up in the post when those two are battling down there.

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

4) Will Westbrook continue to facilitate?: Westbrook’s first 5 games against the Grizzlies saw him take 25.6 shots per game, as he averaged 25.4 points per game on 34% shooting. He actually averaged more points in the final 2 games at 26 off of 51% shooting. His shots per game fell to 18.5 as his assists climbed to 10.5 a game. As long as he can maintain a balance between facilitating and aggression, he’ll help give the Thunder the best possible chance to win.

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

5) How much do these teams have left?: NBA.com asked this question in regards to the Clippers, but I honestly still feel as though it applies to the Thunder as well. Both teams just came off of brutal and highly physical 7-game tests. Granted, the Thunder really seemed to find their stride in their last 2, while the Clippers were trailing for the majority of their Game 7 against the Warriors, so I can see why NBA.com wasn’t as quick to ask that about the Thunder. But these two teams matchup very well, and this series is expected to be just as physical as their previous ones. One key injury could easily derail either squad.

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

I’m noticing that when people are asked to pick a winner, the majority will say either the Clippers in 6, or the Thunder in 7. I’m leaning more towards the Thunder in 7 myself. If the Clippers win, they’ll have to get it done in 6, because if a Game 7 in OKC is forced, I just don’t see the Clippers having anything left for it. The reason? I just feel like they’ll expend most of their energy trying to close out Game 6. Failure to do so would leave that team way too drained to compete in Game 7. The Clippers could potentially take a game or two here in OKC, but it certainly won’t be the deciding Game 7 if it comes down to it.

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

Game 1 comes to us from The Peake, and tip-off is scheduled for 8:30pm CST. The game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and you already know you’re going to want to catch this one. I have a feeling this series could produce even more drama than the last one.

Westbrook Notches Second-Fastest “Trip-Dub” Of All-Time As Thunder Dominate Sixers.

Westbrook Notches Second-Fastest “Trip-Dub” Of All-Time As Thunder Dominate Sixers.

In terms of game action, there’s not really much to go over. The Thunder started of by getting 3 points the “old-fashioned way”, only to be immediately countered by a 3-ball at the other end. Too bad a 3-3 tie was not only the closest the 76ers would get all night, it also marked the game’s only tie, as the Thunder would subsequently finish off a 10-3 run that put them firmly in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the game. A lead of 37 points was actually established at one point before the Thunder finally settled on a 125-92 victory. This 33-point margin of victory marks the largest for the Thunder this season, with their previous one being the 29-point murdering of the Knicks on Christmas Day. This also completes a 2-0 season-series sweep in which the Thunder dominated both games. In fact, this marks their 10th straight victory over the 76ers, making it look as though OKC really has Philly’s number on the court.

(From left) Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, and Serge Ibaka hiding in the background. Westbrook's 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound performance turned into the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history. Durant's 42 points led all scorers, Ibaka added 14, and Jones III logged 12 points filling in for the injured Thabo Sefolosha.

(From left) Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, and Serge Ibaka hiding in the background. Westbrook’s 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound performance turned into the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history. Durant’s 42 points led all scorers, Ibaka added 14, and Jones III logged 12 points filling in for the injured Thabo Sefolosha.

Although this game marked the 15th straight loss for the Sixers, tying this for the second-largest losing streak in the team’s history. This current 15-game losing streak matches the one they experienced from¬†Feb. 9th to Mar. 11th of 1994. Yes, you have to go back 20 years to find a period when the Sixers’ game was this rough around the edges. 6 more consecutive losses will set a new franchise record that was established from Jan. 9th to Feb. 11th of 1973, when the Sixers hit a 20-game slide. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly a quarter of an entire NBA season.

Westbrook skys as Byron Mullens finds himself out of position. Michael Carter-Williams opts to jump with him, as apparently James Anderson didn't deem an effort to jump worth the potential foul he might have picked up doing so. Anderson's 20 points led the 76ers. Carter-Williams added 14, and Mullens threw down 15 off of the Sixers bench.

Westbrook skys as Byron Mullens finds himself out of position. Michael Carter-Williams opts to jump with him, as apparently James Anderson didn’t deem an effort to jump worth the potential foul he might have picked up doing so. Anderson’s 20 points led the 76ers. Carter-Williams added 14, and Mullens threw down 15 off of the Sixers bench.

The common link between the two biggest Thunder victories of the season are the Russell Westbrook triple-double performances. He became the 5th player in NBA history to post one on Christmas Day against the Knicks, and Tuesday night’s performance marks not only his second of the season, but the second-fastest accumulation of triple-double numbers in NBA history, as he posted 13 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds in just over 20 minutes on the court. You have to go all the way back to 1955 to find the one guy who racked up a triple-double in fewer minutes, when Jim Tucker of the Syracuse Nationals racked one up in roughly 17 minutes of floor time.

Durant flys high.

Durant flies high.

His performance was the only eye-popper for the Thunder, as Kevin Durant racked up 42 points while being one rebound shy of a double-double. Plus, he accumulated those numbers before being asked to sit out of the 4th quarter, making LeBron James’ 61-point performance the previous night look far less impressive now.

Jones III with the throw down.

Jones III with the throw down.

Perry Jones III started his second game in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha, and is starting to make those scouts who talked about his bad knees look rather pessimistic about his potential in the NBA. For such bad knees, he seems to have an awfully explosive first step. He added 12 points off of 4-for-6 shooting, including draining his lone attempt from beyond the arc. NFL fans who know anything about the Niners can simply point to Frank Gore and say, “He came into the NFL on two rebuilt knees, was expected to do nothing, and yet he accumulated more rushing yards than any other running back in 49ers history.” Is it really hard to imagine Perry Jones overcoming the injury doubts and becoming a solid player at the NBA level? Not for anyone who’s seen people overcome the psychological barrier injuries tend to set up, and subsequently become serious forces in their sport that opposing coaches have to factor into their game plans. PJ III is starting to show me that kind of potential.

Ibaka skys as Henry Sims can't make it in time to provide help. Sims finished his evening with 10 points.

Ibaka skys as Henry Sims can’t make it in time to provide help. Sims finished his evening with 10 points.

Let’s not forget the other two big contributors, as Serge Ibaka dropped 14 points, and Reggie Jackson added 14 of his own off of the Thunder bench.

Jackson gives us his best Westbrook impression.

Jackson gives us his best Westbrook impression.

The 76ers were able to coax a few inspired performances, despite being out of the game for the vast majority of it. James Anderson’s 20 points led the way, followed by Michael Carter-Williams’ 14, and Henry Sims’ 10. Byron Mullens also provided an inspiring 15-point performance off of the Sixers bench.

This is just the kind of night it was for the 76ers. Sims looks to save the ball, only to realize the futility of his effort.

This picture perfectly represents the kind of night the 76ers had. Sims looks to save the ball, only to realize the futility of his effort.

Tonight begins the first of a two-game road trip, as the Thunder ¬†travel to the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ to be hosted by the Suns. The Thunder took the lone match-up in OKC by a margin of 103-96 back on Nov. 3rd, but there are two more scheduled in Phoenix. This one is scheduled for an 8pm CST tip-off, which should stand since this is the one game played tonight that isn’t part of TNT’s double-header. This action is set to be broadcast via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.