Without Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers aren't the same team with expectations of being a legitimate title contender come April.
Obvious or not, the Clippers (32-11) clearly missed CP3 on Tuesday night, losing a tough 109-97 game to the Oklahoma City Thunder (33-9). Behind Kevin Durant's 32 points and Russell Westbrook's 26, Oklahoma City managed to use a strong third quarter and a few late stops to hold off the Clippers.
Serge Ibaka had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder, while Kevin Martin added 13 points off the bench.
Blake Griffin did his best to keep the Clippers in the game down the stretch. The high-flyer finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but the rest of the team couldn't pick up the Chris Paul-less slack to threaten OKC enough.
Eric Bledsoe (starting in place of Paul) and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 11-of-36 from the floor for a combined 26 points, and Matt Barnes was the only other Clipper to reach double figures with 10.
The Clippers gave up 52 points in the paint in the loss.
Player of the Game: SF Kevin Durant, OKC
Durant continues to make a strong case for the NBA MVP award.
He finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on 12-of-19 shooting, including a lethal 5-of-6 mark from downtown. Durant has reclaimed the first position in the race to lead the league in scoring from Kobe Bryant, and he doesn't appeared poised to lose it anytime soon.
This is KD's sixth game with at least 30 points in his last seven. That streak includes two 40-point games and his 52-point outburst against the Dallas Mavericks last Friday night. Durant is averaging 32.3 over his last 10 games—he just continues to impress and make things difficult on opposing coaches and defenders.
Up Next for the Thunder
After a rough night of heavy minutes on the road in Los Angeles, the Thunder will turn around and head to the Bay Area for a showdown with the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.
Warriors stud guard Stephen Curry scored 28 points in his team's latest win over the Clippers, and the Thunder will have their hands full in containing the young star and his frontcourt mate—All-Star hopeful David Lee.
Up Next for the Clippers
LAC will get a night off before traveling to face the embattled Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. The Suns are transitioning in interim head coach Lindsey Hunter and are also missing Jermaine O'Neal after a verbal spat (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) with GM Lance Blanks.
The Clippers have already won two games against conference rival Phoenix, but Los Angeles will have to bring its A-game against a team that is playing with new life after a head coaching change and the shadow of another disappointing season starting to rear its ugly head.