Photo by Sam Murch
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Los Angeles Clippers’ leading men have seen almost everything. Short of playing in the NBA finals, the combination of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and experienced high and lows together.
Despite that, they still go through games where their trust in the system is tested. That was the case when they faced Oklahoma City for the second time in two weeks.
After watching the Thunder come out on fire to start the game, the Clippers were unsure they were doing the right thing on defense. But they stayed with the plan and came away with a 110-108 victory Friday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was a big-time trust game for us,” Paul said. “We just stuck to the game plan. We kept trying to build a wall around Russ (Westbrook). Kept making those guys make plays. I always take it back to the communication between me, Blake and DJ. Guys are going to follow and what we do. We have been through so much.”
Griffin scored 25 points to lead Los Angeles. He made 10 of 20 shots from the field and grabbed six rebounds. Jamal Crawford came off the bench to score 19 points and Paul contributed 17 points and 10 assists.
“I think we started attacking,” Griffin said. “We were moving the ball a little bit more. I think the first quarter we maybe only drove to the basket four times and the second quarter I think we had 17 in the paint and 34 for the quarter. I think we just changed our style of play in that second quarter which got us going the rest of the game.”
Russell Westbrook paced the Thunder with 29 points, 9 assists and 14 rebounds. Victor Oladipo added 18 points while Andre Roberson and Enes Kanter each scored 13 points to go with 11 rebounds.
“We gave a great effort,” Oklahoma City’s Alex Abrines said. “We didn’t give up once. When you see the crowd, it encourages us to play even better. We felt like we had chances to win the game.”
With the Clippers leading by three points late in the game, the Thunder began to intentionally foul center DeAndre Jordan. He made 1 of 6 free throws on three possessions. During that span, Westbrook made two free throws and cut the deficit to 94-92.
On the ensuing possession, Oladipo drove the lane with a chance to tie. He had his shot blocked and was leveled on the play. As Oladipo lay on the ground, Paul calmly drained a 3-pointer on the other end to push the Clippers’ advantage to 97-92 with 4:16 left.
Westbrook scored before Jordan was fouled again. He made five of his next six foul shots and LA led 102-94. The Thunder quit fouling Jordan after that.
Oklahoma City then ran off eight straight points, including 3-pointers from Oladipo and Westbrook, to tie the score.
Guard Austin Rivers missed two free throws before Westbrook raced coast to coast for a layup. With 33 seconds left, the Clippers led 109-106. Paul dribbled the clock down to 13 seconds left before he missed a jumper. Westbrook got the rebound and called timeout.
Westbrook was fouled on the inbounds pass and hit two free throws. Crawford went to the foul line and missed one of two.
The Thunder got the ball to Westbrook. Instead of driving down the lane to tie the score, he hoisted up a long 3-pointer that was off the mark.
“Yeah, yeah,” Westbrook said. “I should’ve probably drove, but it’s alright.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan agreed with his superstar point guard.
“I trust Russell,” Donovan explained.
The Clippers got the rebound and ran out the clock.
The loss was the second straight at home for the Thunder (6-3). The Clippers (8-1) haven’t tasted defeat since losing to Oklahoma City last week.
The Thunder role players began the night on fire from 3-point range. Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Domantas Sabonis were draining 3-pointers. They combined for six in the first half.
Despite that, the Clippers were tied with the Thunder at halftime at 50-50.
“This is one of those games you can lose your trust in,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Andre Roberson was making 3s. Sabonis was making 3s and we’re telling our guys to stay and clog the pain. And they are looking at me, like why? We did it and it worked out for us. This is one of those games that you could have lost trust easy in what we’re doing and we didn’t.”