The L.A. Clippers stretched their win streak to 7 following a rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder
Entering tonight’s matchup, the second between the L.A. Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center this season, most were prepared for a typical Western Conference showdown. When these two teams last met back in November, the Clippers were handed their first home loss of the season in a close, grueling game that ended 83-85. Despite the Clippers entering the game without leading scorer Blake Griffin, and the Thunder without defensive anchor Steven Adams, who suffered a concussion during last night’s matchup against the Sacramento Kings, there was still so much to look forward to.
For the Thunder, Westbrook is having an MVP-caliber season. He is averaging a triple-double while leading the league in scoring (30.8 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 10.5 assists per game). He only plays at the highest pace humanly possible, and continues to find ways to make his teammates better. In addition, Enes Kanter had found his offensive rhythm just as they embarked upon a brutal stretch full of road games, back-to-backs, and tough opponents.
For the Clippers, DeAndre Jordan, already a strong defensive presence, has been absolutely dominant as of late. Coming off a 24-point, 21-rebound game against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday afternoon, he appeared poised to do more of the same. Chris Paul, despite missing a stretch of games, has been spectacular since returning from injury. And major contributions by Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Marreese Speights, at both ends of the floor, had all helped propel this team to a six-game win streak in the new year. The Clippers lost Chris Paul for the remainder of the game during the end of the first half, but managed to push that streak to seven games tonight behind the brilliance of Jordan, Felton, and Speights. Speights amassed 23 points and 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes of play off the bench, and the Clippers dispatched the Thunder to remain without a loss in 2017.
The game began with a steadfast pace, accompanied by some carelessness and defensive miscues. But it didn’t take long for Jordan to get going; by halftime, he already had 9 points and 12 rebounds. And when he wasn’t scoring or rebounding, he was busy either setting hard screens, cutting to the basket to open-up the perimeter, or deftly calling-out defensive assignments. He continued this through three quarters, until the game became all about Mo’ Buckets.
Speights, who is quickly and perpetually becoming the most-favored of fan favorites, has been able to consistently and efficiently boost the effectiveness of the Clippers second unit. Every spot-up for a three-point shot by Speights is immediately accompanied by the collective sounds of home-crowd anticipation, culminating in either a sigh from the masses or an eruption of cheers. Of his team-high 23 points, 10 came in the fourth quarter, as did 4 of his 10 total rebounds.
Felton, who shot 100% from the field tonight (7-7), continued to score contested layups at a furious pace, and passed when it wasn’t possible. He ended the night with 15 points and 6 assists in 27 minutes of play.
Westbrook led all teams with a game-high 24 points, accompanied by 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but was only 2-of-7 from behind the arc on a team that is already second-to-last in 3-point percentage. No other Thunder player scored more than 13 points, and it was very apparent, when Westbrook was off the floor, how desperately he was needed. The absence of Adams surely didn’t help either.
Battling for Boards and Protecting the Paint
The Thunder, who came into the game ranking 3rd in the NBA in rebounds per game, lost the rebounding battle 36-47. Adams’ absence and was largely to blame, but don’t let that cloud just how impactful Jordan was tonight. In just 30 minutes played, he collected 15 rebounds, 5 of which were offensive. Notably, the Clippers also won the offensive rebounding battle, collecting 10 as a team despite ranking 24th in the league.
The Clippers, without their best scoring big, dominated in the paint. They outscored the Thunder 62-34 in the paint, far more than making-up-for the 22-point game differential. Jordan only accounted for 14 of those 62 points, illustrating a team effort and a willingness to play downhill, uptempo basketball and not to rely on perimeter shooting.
Crawford’s Shooting Woes Continue
Per NBA.com, Jamal Crawford, in 2017, has averaged only 8.9 points per game, 29.7% shooting from field-goal range, and 21.1% from behind the arc. Tonight, he went scoreless in 23 minutes of play, shooting 0-for-5 from the field and 0-for-1 from behind the arc, committing 3 turnovers in the process. He still managed to escape with a +/- of 2 for the night, also tallying 4 rebounds and 1 assist, so he’s not a complete liability. That said, Jamal needs to regain his stroke and the Clippers will need to find creative new ways to get Jamal involved in the offense; otherwise, his minutes may begin to dwindle.
The Big Picture
All in all, it was a very complete night for the Clippers, and a lackluster night for the Thunder, who appeared depleted and lost more often than not. They played a back-to-back, on the road, against a team coming off of a day-and-a-half of rest, and without their best defender/rim-protector. Their tough stretch will continue, as the rest of the West rolls along.
Despite losing Paul, yet again, for what appears to hopefully be no more than a minor sprain, the Clippers are fortunate enough to have a couple days of rest before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves later this week. All the while, though, they will continue to exercise their depth and make tweaks where needed. They have shown us, especially in the new year, why it takes everything to win ball games.
Minnesota Timberwolves at L.A. Clippers
Thursday January 19, 2017 7:30pm PST
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TNT, AM 570