The offense was moving and everything was going right for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half.
Then the second half came along and everything fell apart.
The Los Angeles Clippers came back from a 22-point deficit to beat the Thunder 101-99 Sunday afternoon in Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Western Conference Semifinals. Blake Griffin came up with 25 huge points, including 9-of-11 from the free-throw line, to go along with nine rebounds in the win for the Clippers. Chris Paul controlled the game from the point guard position, scoring 23 points and dishing out 10 assists to only one turnover.
The Clippers showed poise late in the game, winning the last six minutes to tie the series at two games apiece. With that said, the Clippers were not most responsible for the end result.
The Thunder blew the game due to a lack of ball movement.
The Thunder scored 57 points in the first half, moving the ball well and finding open shots for multiple teammates, not just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson were all able to get involved in taking shots and moving the ball around in the first, giving the Thunder a multitude of weapons that the Clippers’ defense simply could not deal with. All of that changed in the second half when the Thunder players began to stand around and stop moving the ball around the perimeter and into the paint.
Durant and Westbrook had to take over the offense primarily by themselves in the second half, and isolation ball cannot always be counted on to get the job done. The Clippers’ defense looked reminiscent of the Memphis Grizzlies‘ down the stretch, playing the Thunder role players tight until Durant or Westbrook tried to create offense in which the Clippers would then surround either player with multiple defenders contesting the shot. Durant and Westbrook are not fantastic players in terms of hitting shots with consistency in traffic, and it was that strategy that allowed the Clippers to get stops on the defensive end.
With these stops, the Clippers were able to dominate the defensive boards in the second and get out in transition where the team is more than capable of matching the Thunder in that area of the game. The Clippers played a three-guard lineup heavily throughout the game, and the speed of Paul, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford along with the athleticism of Griffin and Deandre Jordan was a load to handle late in the game for the Oklahoma City transition defense.
Durant and Westbrook lost a lot of energy trying to carry the team on the offensive end, so fatigue became a factor in terms of the transition defense. The Clippers did a great job of forcing 16 turnovers for the game and holding the Thunder to just 29.2 percent shooting from three-point range through both halves, showing that they put forth the effort necessary to get a crucial win at home.
The Clippers did not play the most productive defense and show the most effort from the start, as they lacked the hustle and intensity on that end of the floor to start. However, the team turned it around in the second half and really took it to Oklahoma City.
This breakdown by the Thunder highlights a glaring weakness that was also apparent during their last playoff series. The Clippers have shown that by forcing Durant and Westbrook to be the only focus of the offense, the team can contest with multiple defenders and cause the Thunder to play a very inefficient style of offense. Isolation ball on its own does not win championships. There are times when the offense breaks down and it is good to be able to rely on a good one-on-one scorer like Durant or Westbrook, but to do that for a whole game is not the kind of basketball any team wants to rely on deep in the playoffs.
The Clippers have now proven that they can come back and win close games in this series. The team as a whole stuck to their guns and played solid defense and executed down the stretch.
The Thunder need to respond in Game 5 and play a well-rounded offense, or they may be in a real hole going forward in this series.