A week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were the talk of the sports world in light of Donald Sterling’s racist comments. With the owner now banned from the NBA, the team can focus on basketball, as they get ready to take on Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.
L.A. barely got past the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, winning a deciding Game Seven on Saturday. The Clippers held off the visiting Warriors, claiming a 126-121 victory.
"I just thought with all this stuff, this team just needed this win,'' Los Angeles head coach Doc Rivers said, following the clincher. “This was a hard week. It feels like two months. I just needed to be able to smile and laugh and cheer, and be proud of something. And I was very proud of my players.”
The No.3 seed in the West will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals. The Thunder had a difficult series, themselves, also pulling out a Game Seven win on Saturday. Oklahoma City survived a 3-2 series deficit, taking two straight from the Memphis Grizzlies.
The two teams enter the series very evenly matched. Oklahoma City won just two more games this year season, and both tied for the conference lead with a 34-7 home record. They split their four head-to-head matchups, and just four points separated the teams in their regular-season series.
In addition to their records, the teams are built in very similar ways. They are led by the top two forward-point guard tandems in the league, and rely heavily on their centers. For the Thunder, Kevin Durant is the favorite to win the MVP award, in a season that saw Russell Westbrook miss 36 games. Blake Griffin had the best season of his career, as injuries kept Chris Paul sidelined for 20 contests.
In the first half of his team’s series with the Grizzlies, Durant was unable to replicate his regular-season success in the playoffs. As the Thunder feel behind in the series to the Grizzlies, so did the 25-year-old’s field goal percentage and scoring average. In Games Six and Seven, though, Durant showed why he’s likely to beat out LeBron James for the NBA’s top individual award. He averaged 34.5 points on 56 percent field-goal shooting in Oklahoma City’s last two wins.
Westbrook might end up being the most important player in the series. He struggled with his shot in the early part of the first round, but found his stride as Oklahoma City moved on to the second round.
The Clippers don’t have a defender like Tony Allen who can contain Durant. In order to win, L.A. will likely have to outscore the Thunder, much like they did to the Warriors. In their wins against Golden State, Los Angeles put on an offensive clinic, averaging 119 points in four victories. Griffin led the way with 23.3 points per games. Paul, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick added a combined 48.4 points per contest.
Player To Watch: Russell Westbrook
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV Channel: TNT
Online Stream: TNT Overtime
Point Spread: Thunder by 5.5 points
Prediction: Los Angeles 108, Oklahoma City 106