Best player? No, not yet. Not until he takes the Oklahoma City Thunder all the way, possibly again vs the anointed and three time MVP winner, LeBron James. But the best team in the NBA? Probably, if you go by the records. Kevin Durant was too much for their biggest rivals in the West this season, playing without their number one player.
Chris Paul not playing for the Clippers isn’t always such a big deal – the Clippers won three games without him when he was out, but his return wasn’t as smooth as they hoped it would be, so they decided to let him sit the #1 vs #2 game (in the West) against the Thunder. It’s clear that without him, in the long run, the Clippers aren’t the same team, no longer looking like potential NBA finalists.
Chris is the orchestrator. He’ll organize everything out there. There’s no way to replace him, but collectively we’ll get it together.
No matter how good Jamal Crawford might be (and he wasn’t that good) or Eric Bledsoe does a good job in filling in for Paul (so-so), they’re not him. Blake Griffin can have all the big games he wants (scoring 31 points), when Crawford and Bledsoe see filling in for Paul as an opportunity to shoot as much as possible, combining for 26 points on 11-34 from the field, there’s not a whole lot to stop the Thunder from winning, even if it’s on the road.
It took them some time to feel comfortable, but somewhere in the second quarter, the shots they needed started falling, and there was no looking back. The Clippers didn’t get the kind of lift they needed from their bench in order to help Griffin, while the Thunder didn’t need that much, when their trio of Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka combined to score 75 points.
It was one of those games when Durant was unstoppable, and didn’t have to go to the line (only 3 times) to prove it, feeling very comfortable shooting from outside the paint. Durant is second in the NBA when it comes to true shooting percentage and had a very efficient day, scoring 32 points on 12-19 from the field, and a 5-6 from beyond the arc, resulting in a 76.3% effective field goal ratio. Durant is enjoyed career highs in both true shooting percentage (65.5%) and effective field goal (57.2%) this season. Lets not forget his all around contribution as well – Durant grabbed 7 rebounds and handed out 7 assists.
Westbrook was having a good day as well, scoring 26 points, enjoying not having to face Chris Paul. He scored 26 points and added 6 assists, with the Thunder being especially deadly from beyond the arc, hitting 52.7% of their three point attempts, doing a great job in eliminating one of the best defenses in the NBA. The Clippers did force turnovers like they always do (16), but didn’t have the right man running the ball to make the most off those chances, scoring only 15 points off of them and finishing with 8 fast break points.
The Thunder created separation, at least for a little while. The Clippers with Paul are a very good team, but it’s hard to see them out-gaining the Thunder the way the NBA finalists from last season are playing. Not with Durant as deadly as he is right now.