Whew! That was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The Memphis Grizzlies had the Oklahoma City Thunder on the brink of elimination with a 3-2 series lead and heading back to Memphis. Fortunately, the “Lost” ad for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s shooting stroke worked and they found their offense in time to put together two great games and advance to the 2nd round.
Just like in the first round, the finger prints of fate, are strewn all over this series. Even though we’ve never faced the Clippers in the playoffs, the inevitability of this series happening has been building for the past 2-3 seasons now. Not only have the Clippers entered into the conversation as one of the contenders in the Western Conference, but their main players have an interwoven history with Oklahoma City that does not involve the Thunder. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are about the closest thing to basketball Prodigal Sons that Oklahoma City has. Now, those two players are in the way of the Thunder advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
Regular Season Series
The Thunder and Clippers split their season series 2-2, with each team winning one on their respective home courts and losing one on their respective home courts. In the first meeting, the Thunder were cruising in the 2nd quarter, before a scuffle in the 2nd quarter between Serge Ibaka and Matt Barnes led to the ejection of both players. With Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (who was out due to the death of his grandfather) out of the game, the Thunder’s 9-point halftime lead eventually evaporated in the 3rd quarter under a rain of shots in the paint from the Clippers. The Thunder went on to lose that game 103-111. The second meeting was one of those games where the Thunder came out hot and never relented, winning 105-91, going away. The third game occurred when the Thunder were in their transition period of working Russell Westbrook back into the line-up after the All-Star break. They ended up losing that one 117-125. In the final meeting of the season, the Clippers were without 6th Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and lost 107-101.
- Game 1 – Monday, 05 May 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
- Game 2 – Wednesday, 07 May 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
- Game 3 – Friday, 09 May 2014 at 9:30 PM CST (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)
- Game 4 – Sunday, 11 May 2014 at 2:30 PM CST (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)
- Game 5 – Tuesday, 13 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
- Game 6 – Thursday, 15 May 2014 TBD (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)*
- Game 7 – Sunday, 18 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
* If necessary
Probable Starting Line-Ups
Los Angeles Clippers
- PG – Chris Paul
- SG – JJ Redick
- SF – Matt Barnes
- PF – Blake Griffin
- C – DeAndre Jordan
- Bench Depth – Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Darren Collison, Danny Granger
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Thabo Sefolosha
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Kendrick Perkins
- Bench Depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Series
1. Perimeter Defense – The Memphis series and this series could not be anymore different. While the Grizzlies were all about pounding the ball inside, the Clippers are more about getting dribble penetration to suck in the defense and then finding open shooters on the outside. With Chris Paul attacking the basket, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Matt Barnes will all be camped out on the 3-point line ready to shoot. This is where Thabo Sefolosha may be key in this series. While he may not start, he could provide valuable defense on either Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford in spots.
2. Rebounding – DeAndre Jordan has turned into a rebounding fool in these playoffs, averaging 15.1 boards per game in the Golden State series. With Blake Griffin contributing 6.3 rebounds of his own in that series, the front line for the Clippers did not let many missed shots get by them. Also of note, though, is that Golden State played the series with a front line consisting of David Lee, Draymond Green, and a hobbled Jermaine O’Neal. If the Thunder can control the boards, that should aid them in getting their transition game going.
3. Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson – With Chris Paul a bit hobbled, I see no wing defender on the Clippers that can stop either of the Thunder trio. Crawford and Reddick aren’t known for their defense, Collison is too small, and, if they dust off Jared Dudley, he’s too slow. The Clippers only real line of defense is Jordan, and that only occurs once the players has beat all the other lines of defense.
For Los Angeles – Chris Paul’s health. If Paul is as hobbled as he seems, this may be an extremely difficult series for him. Russell Westbrook is a completely different animal than Steph Curry. While Curry is more perimeter-oriented, Westbrook is all out attack. And, unfortunately for the Clippers, they have no one else defensively that can stay with Westbrook and give Paul a reprieve on that side of the ball.
For Oklahoma City – Foul Trouble. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s mastery of theatrics (aka flopping) can quickly put the Clippers in the bonus and also get key players out of the game because of foul trouble. It’ll be very important for the Thunder stay disciplined, not only defensively, but also emotionally.
Thunder in 6.
The Thunder got their wake up call in Round 1. They know they nearly blew their opportunity to contend for this season. I don’t see them reverting back to the Thunder we saw in Games 2-5 of the first round. They know, offensively, they can probably get what ever they want. And defensively, they know what they have to do to beat the Clippers.