Each side has thrown their first proverbial haymaker, and now the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder know what the other’s best punch feels like in the Western Conference semifinals.
Point guard Chris Paul’s 32 points and 10 assists powered the Clippers 122-105 victory in Game One, which took the sails out of Oklahoma City’s home-court advantage.
In Game Two, the Thunder responded on the night Kevin Durant received his MVP trophy with the NBA’s leading-scorer nearly recording a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and running mate and point guard Russell Westbrook completing his triple-double attempt with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Oklahoma City would go on to a 112-101 victory and the series is now knotted 1-1.
Friday night’s Game Three at Staples Center could be the turning point in the series for both teams.
For L.A. it will need more consistent and efficient scoring from its frontline of forward Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, while veteran Matt Barnes will need some help in containing the always lethal Durant.
After busting out his fifth game with 20-plus points in Game One, Griffin followed up with 15 points and six boards going 5-for-13 from the floor in Game Two, his second game of sub-40 percent shooting in the postseason.
Thunder centers Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have served as a far more difficult matchup for Jordan, who feasted on Golden State’s depleted front court for 12.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in the first round. Jordan’s production has been cut in half in the first two games with seven points and 6.5 rebounds per contest, and he’s yet to swat a single shot though does have five steals.
Ibaka’s scoring has remained steady throughout the playoffs with 13 points and 8.3 rebounds in nine games, and L.A. countered with forward Glen Davis coming off the bench to apply more offensive pressure. Davis came up with a playoff-high of 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes in Game Two and he could see more action Friday.
Westbrook has started this series hot after shooting 38.2 percent from the field in the first round and he shows no signs of slowing down. The fifth year guard has been especially sharp from deep, going 4-for-6 from three in two games and his shot selection has also improved. Westbrook has proven a very difficult cover for Paul to handle by himself and Clippers head coach Doc Rivers could ask recently dubbed Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and back-up point guard Darren Collison to contribute more on the defensive end than usual.
Averaging 28.5 points in the series, Durant will likely face a barrage of defenders in Game Three with Jared Dudley and Danny Granger coming to Barnes’s aid.
Start Time: 10:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream Info: A live online stream can be viewed at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Clippers -4
Over/Under: 214 points
Prediction: OKC over L.A. 107-105