A night after receiving the regular season MVP award, Kevin Durant turned in a transcendent performance. And because Russell Westbrook felt left out, so did he.
Westbrook notched a triple-double and Durant was an assist away from doing the same, and the Oklahoma City Thunder used a huge second half to put away the Los Angeles Clippers, 112-101, to tie the series at one game apiece.
“I’m just trying find my reads, find my openings, my attack points and where I can be aggressive,” Westbrook explained before the game, via NBA.com’s Nick Gallo.
He ended up bringing a non-stop 41 minutes of aggression, giving the Clippers fits all night on his way to 31 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals.
Durant was nearly identical, tallying 32 points on 10-of-22 shooting, 12 rebounds, nine assists and two steals, as the Thunder shot 50.6 percent from the field and outscored Los Angeles by 12 points in the third quarter to coast to the big victory.
The MVP was an assist away from setting playoff history:
“KD (32pts, 12rbs, 9asts) & Russ (31,10 & 10) narrowly miss becoming 1st set of teammates w/ triple-doubles in 1 playoff game”
Chris Paul followed up his magnificent Game 1 with 17 points and 11 assists, and J.J. Redick added 18, but Blake Griffin struggled from the field (5-of-13) and DeAndre Jordan spent much of the second half in foul trouble.
It actually started well for the Clippers. But after a back-and-forth start to the first quarter saw them hold an 18-16 lead at the 6:13 mark, Durant took over.
Durantula hit his next four shots as part of a 9-0 run all by himself, ultimately finishing with 17 in the quarter as the Thunder jumped out to a 37-28 advantage after 12 minutes.
While Durant followed that up with just four points—all on free throws—in the second period, Westbrook chipped in nine, as the duo combined for 40 of the Thunder’s 61 first-half points.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, stayed close behind a balanced effort.
Redick led the way with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, but Paul had nine and six assists, Matt Barnes hit a couple of three-pointers and Glen Davis added eight in just six minutes off the bench.
The latter, which was especially key in helping the Clippers stay within five at the break, was right in line with Paul’s pre-game praise of the second unit, via the team’s official Twitter feed:
“Our bench is very unique in that most of those guys could go to any other team and start.”
Still, both Jamal Crawford and and Darren Collison struggled from the field, and while Paul, the Game 1 star, wasn’t nearly as flammable shooting the ball, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted his immense impact prior to intermission:
“The Clippers have been outscored by 17 points in the 8 minutes Chris Paul has spent on the bench.”
The third quarter belonged to the Thunder.
Behind a much more balanced effort—Kendrick Perkins began the half with a jumper, Thabo Sefolosha had 12 points, Serge Ibaka added a couple of buckets—the Thunder were able to extend the lead to 17 points by the end of the period.
That’s not to say Westbrook still wasn’t making a massive impact. The explosive point guard did whatever he wanted, causing havoc on defense and getting to the rim at will on offense. Perpetually locked into fired-up mode, he tallied six points, two assists, three rebounds (two offensive), two steals and a bevy of energy plays to help push things into blowout territory.
ESPN’s J.A. Adande summed it up:
“Westbrook gulping for air with his whole body during the breaks, and never going below 60 mph when the ball’s in play.”
The fourth quarter was mostly a formality, as Westbrook and Durant were too much down the stretch and the Clippers were never able to cut the lead under 10.
For two games that have totaled 28 points in margin of victory, this has been a fascinating series. There have been three MVP-caliber individual performances—only one of which has come from the actual MVP—and some scintillating offensive displays.
While the Clippers will feel good about returning to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday with the series tied, they will need Griffin, who finished third in regular season MVP voting, to recover from a forgettable night.
If the Thunder continue to shoot 50 percent from the field, control the offensive glass and get these kinds of nights from their stars, though, it may not matter.
Either way, the excitement will inevitably increase as the games get closer down the stretch.
What The Rest Has In Store
Just to get us all on the same page, let’s see what the rest of this series can look like. I will show you with a variety of different categories to recap and predict:
How the Thunder got here: Beat No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies 4-3.
How the Clippers got here: Beat No. 6 Golden State Warriors 4-3.
Points per game (per 100 possessions): Thunder 106.2, Clippers 107.9 (Thunder 110.5, Clippers 107.5).
Points allowed per game (per 100 possessions): Thunder 99.8, Clippers 101.0 (Thunder 103.9, Clippers 104.8).
Matchups worth watching: Thunder PG Russell Westbrook vs. Clippers PG Chris Paul, Thunder PF Serge Ibaka vs. Clippers PF Blake Griffin.
Scoring leaders: Thunder SF Kevin Durant (32.0 points a game), Griffin (24.1).
Why Oklahoma City will win: Defense is the difference. Westbrook and Durant can only be matched by one duo in the NBA, the Clippers’ Paul and Griffin. But the Thunder play much better defense. The matchups for the Clippers will be difficult, too. They have no answer for Durant, and while Paul can frustrate opposing point guards, he risks being run over by his bigger, faster and stronger counterpart. There’s also the lingering factor of the Donald Sterling scandal, which could distract the Clippers but also could galvanize them.
Why Los Angeles will win: The best offense in the NBA can get scary. Center DeAndre Jordan’s pairing with Griffin should make it difficult for the Thunder to regularly use their smaller lineups, and neither Steven Adams nor Kendrick Perkins offers much on offense. Paul has a long history of stepping up his games against other elite point guards and would relish the opportunity to expose Westbrook’s inconsistencies. Westbrook and Durant both have to carry huge loads, while the Clippers are more balanced. Finally, Doc Rivers is a proven championship-caliber coach, while Scott Brooks has drawn a lot of heat lately for misusing his stars.
Did you know? The Clippers have never, even dating back to their Buffalo Braves days, reached the conference finals round.
Prediction: Clippers in 7.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and you can follow the Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues Google+ Page. For more fantasy basketball news visit Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues, a fantasy basketball blog.