It’s easy to diminish the Oklahoma City Thunder into being a two-man team of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but when the two of them have great games, it’s the help of the other guys like Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha that makes them truly unbeatable, just like they showed in a 112-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers to make it 1-1 in the conference semifinals series.
The Thunder and especially Durant started out strongly and never looked back. He scored 17 of his 32 points in the first quarter, hitting from everywhere, contested or not. As Chris Paul later said about Westbrook, the point guard was everywhere on the floor in one of those special nights from him when he seems to be involved in everything for the Thunder, finishing with a triple double (thanks to some generous assist calculations) with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Durant was one assist shy of a triple double as well.
And what did we say about getting help? The two made right decisions: shoot when they needed to, pass when they needed to. Serge Ibaka scored 14 points on 6-of-10 from the field, Thabo Sefolosha surprised with 14 points of his own and even Kendrick Perkins felt very involved in the whole offensive process, scoring 8 points as the trio combined to hit 15-of-26 from the field, making it unnecessary from any bench player to step up (which they didn’t, again).
When it’s not about adjustments and simply trying to find the obvious things that made the difference we can talk about fire and aggression. The Clippers seemed like the weaker, inferior and passive team right from the start. Blake Griffin was constantly pushed away from the basket, as over half of his shot attempts came from 16 feet and further, as Ibaka and Steven Adams were able to push him out of the paint. Serge Ibaka is doing a great job on him, allowing Griffin just one field goal inside 10 feet so far this series.
But as it was mentioned before, the Clippers looking lost on rotations and switches defensively might have been their bigger issue. Both Griffin and DeAndre Jordan looked slightly confused or completely lost on other occasions as the Thunder found it very easy to get by one player and completely jumble up the Clippers’ defensive schemes. The Thunder shot 50.6% from the field and won the second-chance points “battle”, getting 17 to the Clippers’ 9 off of 15 offensive rebounds.
Russell Westbrook did pass a lot, but got most of his point on plays when he didn’t get help from anyone else. He had 21 of his 31 points when he did not pass the ball during the possession, including 17 of his 19 first-half points. Generally in this postseason he is much better when he starts and finishes the play on his own, which goes against every kind of criticism against him, but the numbers show it works.
The Clippers blowing out the Thunder in the first game didn’t go without a response, as expected. It’ll be now interesting to see which side of each team shows up for game 3, as the Clippers defensive inconsistencies can become the ruin of them in this series, while the Thunder have also struggled to maintain a consistent production from players not named Durant and Westbrook in this postseason. For now, it seems like they’ve found the right formula, hoping it’ll last.