Statement Win For Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers are two teams that are on the top of just about everyone’s NBA power rankings at this point in the season. I’ve seen the Spurs come up ahead of the Clippers in a few polls, but clearly the two teams are amongst the top 3 or 4 in the league right now. Tuesday night, they went head-to-head in a game that was close for a while, but a big third quarter from the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, helped secure Oklahoma City’s clear #1 status.
In defense of the Clippers, they were without starting Point Guard Chris Paul, who missed the game with a bruised kneecap. Talented number-two Point Guard Eric Bledsoe logged 35 minutes in relief duty, scoring 12 points and dishing out 4 assists, but he only shot 5 for 16 from the field. A loss is a loss, but a healthy Chris Paul would have more than likely made a difference, especially with the way Blake Griffin was scoring the rock.
In one of his most impressive outings of the season, Griffin scored a season-best 31 points on 11-19 from the field and 9-10 from the line. He was the unquestioned go-to guy from start to finish, demanding the ball and constantly making use of every touch. The tall Oklahoma City front-line gives trouble to a lot of opposing big men, but Griffin was certainly up to the challenge tonight. Kendrick Perkins saw very limited minutes due to foul trouble, but Griffin was making a living working on Serge Ibaka in the post and stretching him out to 15-feet as well.
Yet the man of the night was undoubtedly Durant. Hitting 12 of his 19 field goals and 5 of 6 from downtown, the reigning scoring champ was on top of his game. He led the surge that helped Oklahoma City pull away in the 3rd Quarter, and his hot shooting continued in the 4th. Every time when the Clippers were attempting a run, Durant had the answer, from his outside game to inside scoring, including a monstrous slam to put an explanation point on the victory.
Russell Westbrook and Ibaka helped support Durant with 26 and 17 points respectively, and Kevin Martin hit 3 for 5 from downtown coming off the bench. Apart from Griffin, the Clippers got 14 points from Jamaal Crawford, who missed 12 of his 18 shots, 12 from Bledsoe, and another 10 from Matt Barnes off the bench.
Adding Paul to the lineup will definitely make a big difference if the two meet in the playoffs, but the Clippers may still need a few more players stepping their game up a bit as well, possibly Caron Butler or someone off the bench providing offensive support to Griffin and Crawford.
The Thunder will continue to test the league’s best record on the road during a West-Coast trip that features 3 more games in the next 5 days against Golden State, Sacramento, and that other Los Angeles team.