LOS ANGELES-The Western Conference playoff battles are going to be interesting, to say the least. And if the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder somehow get an opportunity to locked horns in the postseason, it could very well be a barn-burner of a series. Just by gauging the last regular season matchup at Staples Center between the two teams, a seven-game series may even go the route of a classic duel.
There were body blows, plenty of elbows and a whole of stare downs to along with a drama-pitched, highly entertaining basketball game played at Staples Center. If what transpired Sunday afternoon is a precursor to what to expect from the Clippers and Thunder, then fans are going to be in for a real treat during the playoffs.
The Clippers climbed themselves out a 19-point deficit to take a brief lead down the stretch in the further only to give way to the reigning Western Conference champions Thunder in a competitive 108-104 loss in front of a sellout home crowd. The Clippers can thank their inability to hold on to the ball as a major contributor to the team’s 19th defeat of the season. Oklahoma City forced the Clippers into committing 16 of the team’s 20 turnovers in the game in the first half.
Those early mistakes put the Clippers on their heels for the rest of the game, even when Los Angeles appeared would snatch defeat into a season-defining win. In the end, the high volume of turnovers proved to be a back-breaker for the Clippers in their season-finale against the Thunder. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said as much in his postgame speech.
“Obviously the turnovers in the first half really put us back on our heels, gave them a nice cushion,” Del Negro said. “We could never get any rhythm because our turnovers. I just thought we couldn’t grab the ball, we were losing it, trying to make passes in traffic and then we fouled them. We let them get to the free throw line. For them, they missed more free throws than they usually do. But we fouled them too many times, turned it over too many times.”
The first half of the Sunday afternoon matinee had to seem like a blur to the Clippers as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder raced by the Clippers as if they were standing in sand. Those 16 turnovers the Clippers helped OKC take a 54-41 halftime lead. With Oklahoma City’s lead ballooning to 19 points more than halfway into the third quarter, the Clippers looked as if they would get run out of their own gym.
It wasn’t pretty. But the good news to all of this is that the Clippers didn’t roll over and called it in. The Clippers’ Big Two-Blake Griffin and Chris Paul-got their act together and put the Clippers in attack mode as the team cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 9 by the end of the third quarter. Suddenly, the big, bad Oklahoma City team looked vulnerable. That once insurmountable lead was shrinking fast.
The Clippers’ scoring avalanche was coming. Paul’s 14 third-quarter points ignited the Clippers (43-19). The rest of the Clippers caught on to how their floor general was playing, especially Jamal Crawford. Crawford scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Clippers outscored OKC 31-26 in the final period.
The Clippers’ furious comeback effort eventually surged the team to a brief 100-99 lead, thanks to a Crawford three-point shot from the top of the key. Staples Center erupted. But the Durant and Westbrook show have a way of quieting crowds. Durant, who scored 31 of his game-high 35 points through the first three quarters of play, and Westbrook, who poured in 29 points and handed out 10 assists, made the all the big plays down the stretch to lead OKC (43-16) to its 43rd win of the year.
Westbrook scored two baskets and dished an assist, while Durant sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
Lamar Odom, who six points and grabbed five rebounds of the bench, said the early hole the Clippers dug was simply too much to try to overcome.
“I just think that we didn’t play,” Odom said. “When you give a team like that a lead, it’s hard to come back out on top. What we did was not good enough. It was funny, when I was over on the bench I heard the crowd clapping. But that’s just not good enough. When you just play well enough against a team like that, it’s just not good enough to get the win.”