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Game 4: As Expected, LA Crushed the Young Thunder

Oh, wait…you mean it was the other LA?  Oh me.  Oh my.

Final Score: Clippers 107, Thunder 92

Stat leaders:

Points: Eric Gordon with 27

Rebounds: Krstic, Green, and Griffin all with 9

Assists: Eric Bledsoe with 8

Post-Game Analysis:

This outcome was shocking, to say the least.  What was even more shocking was that the outcome was virtually certain by the middle of the 2nd quarter.  During this quarter, the Thunder, for all intents and purposes, stopped playing the game.  In a dazzling display of nonchalance, the Thunder put on the performance of an AAU team that had just met before tipoff.

It cannot be stated strongly enough – the Clippers are one of the most historically inept teams in the history of the NBA, and the Thunder’s play made them look like playoff contenders.  Something isn’t just wrong.  Something is broken.

We could discuss the listless play, the dribbles off of the leg, the horrible 3 point shooting (4-26), and the refusal to put a body on young Griffin.

All of those critiques would be valid.  But addressing them won’t put a W on their record, especially facing a vastly superior Portland team tonight.  Rather, the team seems to have lost its own identity.

This is what I think is in play: the Thunder bought into their own hype.  I hate to say it, but that is what I see.  I see a team that does not seem to have any sense of taking the game seriously.  I’m sure if you asked them to a man if they took it seriously, to a man they would say, “yes.”   However, when you drop two games back to back by double digit scores, the latter to a team that has no history of a winning identity, and you look bad doing it, a message is being sent that the Thunder took themselves too seriously and their opponents not seriously enough.

Allow me to quote the great Crash Davis:

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.

Sure, it’s fiction, and yeah, it’s baseball.  But I think this sentiment highlights something that younger athletes don’t quite grasp; that is, that everything matters.  Take a look at the 2010 Dallas Cowboys.  After 7 games, many of them ending with key players saying things like, “we can fix that,” “We’ll do that better next time,” and “We just need to right the ship and stop making so many mistakes,” you look up and their season is effectively over.  The Cowboys were predicted to be the first team in NFL history to host the Superbowl in their home stadium.   They believed the hype, didn’t take any aspect of their performance seriously, and now that Superbowl is gone with less than half the season expended.

I know that it is easy to go crazy living game to game over the course of an 82 game season, and the mistakes being made are correctable.  But are they being corrected?  Has their atrocious interior defense gotten better since game 1? Has their shooting percentage gone up?  Have the coaching decisions improved?  Not yet.  Of course, there is time.  There is plenty of time.  But that is the great narcotic to complacent teams (just ask Jerry Jones).

Like Crash Davis said, the difference between being an also-ran and a contender is the smallest of things extrapolated across the vast sea of endless back to back games in February and March.  Everything matters.

Games against the likes of the Clippers make the difference between a 42 win 8th seed and a 52 win 4th seed.   Tonight they’re in Portland.  It is time to get their head on right.

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Game 4 Preview: Thunder at the LA Clippers

Tipoff 10:30PM EST

The Thunder are facing the first of two away games tonight.  This evening’s game, against the struggling to be relevant (but not really) Clippers are looking to notch their first win of the season.

What to expect:

The Thunder’s past performance is duly noted.  They have struggled with their interior defense and struggled with the perimeter shot.  They have played solid but not great against mediocre teams, and poorly against a superior team.    The Clippers have dropped their first four games, looking mostly inept, breaking 90 points only once.

The Clippers have two bright silver linings – that of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin.   Gordon has shown signs of explosiveness this season, though as a shooting guard one would hope that his 3-21 3 point shooting percentage might be a tad higher.

Oh me.  Oh my.

Down low, Blake Griffin, injured all of last year, has finally begun to make his impression on the league, averaging 16 and 10 through four games.  He has been every bit as explosive, dynamic, and strong in the post as they’d have hoped.

We’d better stop there.

I gave a listen to Bill Simmons’ podcast that was posted on 11/2, and he touched on Griffin thus far.  Much to his despair, he said that Griffin already appears to have “The Stink” of the Clippers on him.   After only four games, Simmons reported that he’s already seeing Griffin begin to get that glazed over look in his eyes, slumped posture, and a notable lack of energy that only the suck of a defeated organization can infuse in a young talent.

And then there is chubby Baron.  Baron Davis has provided some of the league’s highlights during his time in the NBA.  However, it seems that no other player vacillates between crunch time stud and disinterested three point chucker as Baron.  He again doesn’t seem engaged this year, and that is sad.

With this landscape on the horizon, and the bitter taste of a loss still lingering, you would think that the Thunder should be primed for a strong outing.

A check list for the Thunder:

  • Commit to defensive rebounds.  Griffin is extremely active on the offensive boards, and second chance shots are one of the easiest ways for inferior teams to remain competitive.
  • Commit to early fast breaks.  This goes hand in hand with defensive rebounding.  Westbrook, Durant, and Green have been at their best thus far when pushing the ball and making good fast break decisions.
  • Take less than 15 three point shots.  They’re relying on it too much, and it isn’t falling.  Durant can get any shot he wants to, and Westbrook shouldn’t have much trouble getting into the paint.  Steer clear of the outside shots.
  • Take the home crowd out of the game early.  Avoid cheap turnovers and wasted possessions.  The crowd will only be half full anyway, so it makes it that much easier.

Prediction: Thunder by 9

 

11/3 Daily Links

Game time tonight.  A great measure of a team’s resolve is how they respond from defeat.

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • The Spurs beat the Clippers for a 17th consecutive game.  That is impressive enough, and speaks both to superior personnel as well as a long standing familiarity with success that the Clippers have barely scratched during their entire existence.
  • The Spurs’ bench had outscored the Clippers’ bench by a score of 25-0 by the time the 4th quarter had started.  In other words, the Clippers aren’t very deep.
  • This game will probably be more about what is wrong with the Clippers than what is right (or needs to be right) with the Thunder. Even so, it’s always nice to play a JV team from time to time.
  • Simmons riffed on the Clippers’ young superstud, Blake Griffin.  He’s already saying that Griffin is starting to exhibit “the stink” of the Clippers.