Nobody was Tweeting about Blake Griffin tonight.
The last Griffin’s Los Angeles Clippers tangled with the Oklahoma City Thunder, his earthshaking dunk over Kendrick Perkins punctuated a blowout Lob City victory that seemed to expose some serious OKC flaws.
The Clippers’ outside shooting was as hot tonight (12-26 three-pointers) as it had been on January 30 (when they hit 13-25). Inside of 25 feet, though, they couldn’t find any holes in the Thunder defense. They hit only six of 19 shots in the paint and seemed to shrink from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Three other critical differences between tonight and the last OKC-LAC clash:
The Emergence of Serge – Ibaka’s one-on-one defensive prowess polarizes observers, but his confidence has grown to the point that he showed no surprise in thoroughly outplaying an All-Star starter tonight. Griffin scored a season-low seven points, his only single-digit outing of the year, and seemed almost helpless in front of his hometown crowd.
Nick Collison – looking hockey goon-ish with his new right-eye shiner – is usually a better one-on-one defender against great low-post scorers, but he struggled in his few matchups with Griffin, while Ibaka thrived. It seems that Ibaka’s overpowering athleticism might make him a better bet to shut down players like Griffin who depend mostly on leaping ability, while Collison may still be a better option against more polished, earthbound scorers.
Gone Fish-in’ – Derek Fisher certainly looks the part of a championship-level backup point guard. The Thunder’s newest acquisition stepped onto the court just hours after signing his contract, to an appreciative ovation from his new home crowd. His stat line was ordinary, but he made no mistakes and capably stayed in front of the Clippers’ waterbug backcourt.
The numbers may indicate that Lazar Hayward (2-2 three-pointers tonight), Thabo Sefalosha (1-2) or even Royal Ivey (1-1) are better long-range shooters, but fans, writers, and broadcasters seem convinced that Fisher’s outside touch will emerge in at least one critical playoff fourth quarter.
Some observers will wonder whether the amount of hand-wringing speculation expended over Fisher’s fate this past week was worth it, since mid-season acquisitions rarely swing championships. He could be the rare exception, though, if he can upgrade the backup point guard situation from Intensive Care Unit (represented by the game, if overmatched, Reggie Jackson) to Stable and Recovering.
Danger Zone – The Clippers went on several mini-runs, fueled by an aggressive 2-3 zone defense that somewhat stymied the Thunder. Scott Brooks showed intuition by sticking with Nazr Mohammed, whose midrange jumper was enough of a threat to stretch that zone out.
Oklahoma City will likely see more zone or near-zone looks with traps at the top of the key, now that the Jazz and Clippers proved it an effective attack the past two games. It will be interesting to watch the Thunder counter. As devastating a weapon as Kevin Durant already is, he could wreak even more havoc as a high post or wing threat against even a great zone defense.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.