There’s still plenty of time for things to turn around, but after losing 93-90 to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves not only after two losses in two games to start the season, but now without Russell Westbrook, injuring his hand and joining the team’s other superstar, Kevin Durant, on the unable to play list for now.
Westbrook wasn’t having a very good game anyway in the nine minutes he was on the floor. He hurt his hand going up for a rebound, tried to play a bit more before leaving the court. On his way to the locker room, something was said to him from the stands by a fan, Followed by security, Westbrook stopped and traded some words before being escorted away from the action. What was said? At the moment, it’s not quite clear. Maybe a racist remark, or maybe something that rubbed Westbrook the wrong way. The NBA and the Clippers will probably have more on that soon enough.
The Thunder were resourceful. Perry Jones scored 32 points, Serge Ibaka added 17 and Sebastian Telfair, suddenly finding himself on the floor without anyone to sub for him, playing 38 minutes, added 7 assists and scored 11 points, but missed seven of his nine shots from the field. When it comes down to it, maybe the guys stepped up, but without the team’s three main ball handles, play makers and scorers, as Reggie Jackson should be the first to return, the Thunder are in very big trouble.
The Clippers weren’t smooth on their season debut, but came away with a win over a rival they hate, losing to the Thunder in six games six months ago in the NBA playoffs. Blake Griffin led the team with 23 points and 7 rebounds, even doing well from the line with 7-of-10. Chris Paul was excellent as well, scoring 22 points to go with 7 assists and 3 steals. The re-vamped bench was useful as well, as Jamal Crawford scored 16 points to make it feel just like last season right off the bat.
Griffin shows more growth and an attempt to add to his game, shooting very well from 17 feet or longer. He was 5-of-9 from the field (8-of-18 overall) when shooting from that distance. In his career, he has attempted only 22% of his shots from long range, even though he’s making 50% of them. Griffin made two big free throws just around the end to clinch the win, as the Thunder, despite their low key remnants, kept hanging on very close.
How good were they? They were outscored only by one point without Westbrook on the floor. In their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night, the Thunder were outscored by 13 points when Westbrook wasn’t playing. While it might be something of a minor blessing, giving Scott Brooks a chance to learn what other players can step up for him instead of the usual suspects, it’s hard imagining the Thunder picking up too many wins now that they’re without the two players that make them so special.
As for the Clippers, this night was a tour de force for Steve Ballmer, the new owner, who is a volcano of energy compared to anyone, not just the former owner, now a persona non grata in the NBA. The aspirations are no longer just making the playoffs and winning the city rivalry. That’s accomplished and done. Making conference finals and eventually, in the very near future, winning an NBA championship. They have the tools and materials. They’re also off to a promising start.