By Daniel Caccamo and Nathaniel Dedman
Here we go. With round 2 just a day away, the matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers has many NBA fans excited.
The Thunder were pushed to the brink by an extremely rigid Memphis Grizzlies team, they were forced to win two straight elimination games to advance to the second round. Whilst the Clippers were involved in the Donald Sterling racism scandal, as well as a grueling series against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers managed to advance despite all of their off court issues with ownership in Game 7.
The two Western Conference powerhouses are ready to do battle in what should be one of the most epic playoff series of this year. The season series was extremely close, with the teams splitting their four meeting (2-2) – the Thunder only outscored the Clippers by a total of FOUR points throughout the four games.
- Game 1 @ Oklahoma City, Monday 5th of May
- Game 2 @ Oklahoma City, Wednesday7th of May
- Game 3 @ Los Angeles, Friday 9th of May
- Game 4 @ Los Angeles, Sunday 11th of May
- Game 5 @ Oklahoma City (if necessary), Tuesday 13th of May
- Game 6 @ Los Angeles (if necessary), Thursday 15th of May
- Game 7 @ Oklahoma City (if necessary), Sunday 18th of May
Points per game (per 100 possessions)
Oklahoma City Thunder – 106.2 (110.5)
Los Angeles Clippers – 107.9 (107.5)
Points allowed per game (per 100 possessions)
Oklahoma City Thunder – 99.8 (103.9)
Los Angeles Clippers – 101.0 (104.8)
Home/Away Record (total)
Oklahoma City Thunder – 34-7/25-16 (59-23)
Los Angeles Clippers – 34-7/23-18 (57-25)
How the Thunder Win
Nathaniel Dedman – It starts with Russell and end’s with Westbrook. The LA Clippers outfit are deep right from the starters through to the last rotation off the pine – something Oklahoma don’t have yet! With DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin coming along and joining Chris Paul as legitimate big time players this season the pressure heaps on the shoulders of electric Thunder PG Russell Westbrook.
I’ve always said that a healthy CP3 is the best point guard in the league and anything less than an on fire Westbrook simply won’t do. The former UCLA man was in trouble during stages of the first round against Memphis where his shots simply couldn’t find the bottom of the net and with the same fate effecting Kevin Durant, it was up to Reggie Jackson, the guard out of Boston College to save the day at times. Westbrook would eventually find his mojo towards the end of the series which just highlighted his ever questioned importance to the side.
The LAC crew are the next most dangerous side behind Memphis that Oklahoma could have faced from a matchup point of view. And just our luck, we got them back to back! The Thunder aren’t relatively strong inside and rely on the scoring games of KD and Russ to win the ball games where the Clippers this season have two options inside. The Thunder big men such as Perkins, Collison and Adams will need to play a containment role on Jordan and hope to limit his presence. While tacking Blake Griffin WILL need to be shared between Ibaka and second year former Baylor forward Perry Jones III. Traditionally battles between Ibaka and Griffin have resulted in some sort of issue and with Serge’s ever growing importance to OKC we really can’t afford to have him ejected or in foul trouble. It’s extremely important to rotate Ibaka with Perry Jones III to ensure an even spread of fouls, therefore ensuring Ibaka is there for the crunch!
This rotation of Jones will also help when the likes of Granger and the bench depth check in. Jones would have been a lottery pick if not for potential knee issues and has the skill and ability to go with Granger and keep him quiet.
And finally, Scott Brooks needs to do something other than ordering a set screen for KD! Kid Clutch won’t have a Tony Allen following him all game but with Doc Rivers loving hard work and tenacity of the defensive end of the floor you can bet Durant will be hassled. It was nice to see him replace Thabo with Caron in the starting lineup which gives us another option on the O but more needs to be done. I love Scott Brooks but it’s WCF at the very least or bust for this group and this coach!
Defense, Defense and Defense will win this series.
How the Clippers Win
Daniel Caccamo – The Clippers have a massive advantage on the inside where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will be able to assert themselves offensively and defensively. Although Ibaka, Perkins and Adams are a formidable front court rotation they wont be able to stop the athletically gifted Jordan or dominant Griffin. The Clippers are one of the deepest teams in the league and will use their balance and depth to create problems for the Thunder, as they have various players who can step it up and lead the Clippers to the win. Finally outside shooting – the Clippers have a team full of 3-point threats which means 2 things. 1 – they can score points in a hurry and 2 – it opens up lanes on the inside for CP3, Crawford, Collison or Griffin to exploit. The Clippers can dominate in a variety of ways and that will be a big problem for the OKC Thunder.
Did you know – The Clippers have never reached the conference finals round – even dating back to their Buffalo Braves days.
What do the players say?
“This team runs at a high level, they pass the ball up the floor at a high level. They advance the ball; they have athletic guys and shooters all around. Our defense is going to be tested.” – Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
“These playoffs aren’t going to be easy, but we have won there this season, and we are looking to go up there and get one.” – Clippers forward Matt Barnes.
Russell Westbrook vs Chris Paul
Nathaniel Dedman – Let me put my answer like this. A healthy Chris Paul is the clear premier Point Guard in the league. BUT a Westbrook producing form like the back-end of the Memphis series, which we know he can do, is a pretty close second. Those two on their day put the rest of the PG class to bed with their dazzling play.
That makes this series, in my opinion, won at the floor general spot. With LA dominating inside and Kevin Durant owning any opponent at the 3 the importance of taking command here grows even more. If CP3 can not only score but also find his teammates good looks then the Clippers fans can get excited about uncharted playoff waters. HOWEVER if Westbrook can shoot a good percentage, set up his teammates and attack the boards like he did in game 7 then CP3 will be needing Cliff Paul to help out.
Paul is consistent while Westbrook is slowly adding that to his game. As much as I’d like to call this one a draw, it looks like Russ got his wake-up call and is about to hit high gear.
Advantage – Oklahoma City Thunder
Caron Butler vs J.J. Redick
Daniel Caccamo – After Game 5 against the Grizzlies, Coach Brooks did something he hasn’t done for a long, long time – he changed his starting lineup for reasons other than injury. He replaced the unproductive Thabo Sefolosha with the veteran Caron Butler. This proved a great move, as he became a solid offensive option for the Thunder and a huge threat from deep. He will be matched up against Redick – one of the most consistent deep threats in the NBA. It is unsure if Brooks will go back to Sefolosha for this series but neither of them are better than Redick. Whilst Redick doesn’t provide much outside of his 3-point shooting, he is extremely good at what he does and plays within the Clippers system very effectively.
Advantage – L.A. Clippers
Kevin Durant vs Matt Barnes
Nathaniel Dedman – Do you dare tip anyone not named LeBron James to get the better of Kevin Durant for the duration of a series destined to be as epic as this one? I certainly wouldn’t!
Durant has been an absolute magician on the basketball court lately and anything less than an MVP trophy would be a shame from an administration point of view. His ability to stand 6’10 and have the mobility to play quick and attack the rim puts him in a very rare class. Barnes can only hope to contain Kevin Durant.
The importance of an on fire Kevin Durant is even more important this series considering this is the easiest position to win. With Westbrook battling it out with a premier Point Guard in Paul and Ibaka dueling down low and in the air with Blake Griffin their production may be limited and their freedom restricted. I fully expect Durant to hit some big shots this series and create history. Will it be enough to get OKC over the line? I bloody hope so!
Advantage – Oklahoma City Thunder
Serge Ibaka vs Blake Griffin
Nathaniel Dedman – Blake Griffin has well and truly shaken off the “nothing more than a dunker” tag this season and given CP3 the perfect running mate he was after wen he joined what was then, the second team in LA.
With an ever improving Griffin, the Clippers now run LA regardless of what Kobe Bryant has to say. However the Playoffs are where legends are made and if Griffin wants to solidify himself as a premier Power Forward he’s going to need to continue doing his thing this season.
Ibaka has had an ever improving season but WILL need to produce a solid effort both physically and mentally to ensure the Thunder progress. Previously against Blake, the big man out of the Congo has shown a hot streak that could hurt OKC. If he can somehow manage to keep that in check then the Thunder fans can get pumped. Blake Griffin should win the numbers side, but for Ibaka it’s all about limiting. If he can keep Blake to about 70% form then that’s a big win. But for me, in the form he’s been in, you can’t go past Blake Griffin
Advantage – L.A. Clippers
Kendrick Perkins vs DeAndre Jordan
Daniel Caccamo – DeAndre Jordan has established himself as one of the best big men in the NBA. Already the best rebounder in the league (this season), Jordan showed that he can score the ball efficiently in the playoffs, whilst also providing some excellent defense. He will be matched up with Perkins, who had a relatively effective series against Memphis – Perkins was able to make it hard for Randolph and only missed 5 shots the entire series (12-17). With that being said Perkins struggles against more athletic big men and they don’t get much more athletic than Jordan. Expect a dominant series for Jordan.
Advantage – L.A. Clippers
Thunder Bench vs Clippers Bench
Daniel Caccamo – Bench production could be where it all falls apart for the Thunder during this series. Whilst the likes of Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Derek Fisher have been able to come in for the starters, their play has been far for where it needs to be and outside of those three players, it is thin pickings for the Thunder. Then you look at the Clippers bench, led by 6th Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford. They all know their roles and play within the Clippers system so successfully. The Clippers have the deepest bench in the league, with several players capable of being starters on other teams. Along with Crawford there is Darren Collison, Glen Davis and Danny Granger who all come in and play very well, enabling Coach Doc Rivers to spell his star players – keeping them fresh for later in the game and series.
Advantage – L.A. Clippers
Coach Scott Brooks vs Coach Doc Rivers
Nathaniel Dedman – If I was starting a franchise and wanted to poach an active coach then there would be three people on my list; Coach Thibs, Pop and finally, Doc Rivers.
Doc knows what it takes to bring a team to the Finals and he knows how to win. But what really gives him the edge is his will to change it up when it isn’t working. Coach Brooks only just recently has shown an inkling to stop being so loyal and do what’s best for the team. Changing Thabo for Sef was a good start but if he hopes to even compete in the tactical duel then he needs to come up with something special.
Rivers is one of the best in the game and I have so much respect for how he goes about everything. One day, I wouldn’t mind taking to him because the man is a true pro.
With all that said, I think you know where my selection is.
Advantage – L.A. Clippers
Nathaniel – The Oklahoma City will take the round 4-3. I think it’s foolish to even think this series will be any less than 6 or 7 games considering all the talent assembled on two rosters. If you thought these two sides first round match-ups were exciting then you better get yourself a stiff drink and buckle up for the ride of your life!
The Clippers no doubt have the depth, but what they do miss is a closer. Jordan was big, Kobe was huge, Pierce delivered cold blooded shots and Ray Allen did his thing. LA don’t have that player. Sure, anyone is able to get a miracle shot to fall but not with the consistency and cool that KD does. If the game or the series is in the balance, let him stand up to his critics and show them that he, and he alone, is the master of the Western Conference!
LA won’t be going down without a fight and Oklahoma won’t have it easy. It’s the sort of series that I’ll take time off work to watch the games and rant and rave and throw things while my housemate wonders if he should call the police but man, this will be epic!
Daniel – The Los Angeles Clippers will win 4-3. I picked the Clippers at the start of the playoffs to win it all and I expect them to advance in what should be one of the most entertaining playoff series this year. They have the advantage almost across the board and with their bench as deep as it is, the Thunder will have almost no margin for error. In saying that, Westbrook and Druant are two of the best players in the league and will be able to keep the Thunder in this series – but they wont be able to do it all by themselves. Barnes is a great defender and will provide a tough match-up for Durant, whilst Paul is one of the best PG’s in the league and his match-up with Westbrook is what the playoffs are all about. The playoffs are well and truly here everyone. Enjoy the ride.
Think the result will be different? Let us know on twitter @danielcaccamo22 @ndedman94 or in the comment section below.