Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Unleash Dominant Statement Game on Clippers

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The lights dimmed before halftime at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but there was no romance between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2.

Instead, one blowout was met with another. After stomaching a 122-105 loss in Game 1, the Thunder prevailed on Wednesday night 112-101. Predictably enough, the difference-makers were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Though Durant was recently anointed the league's Most Valuable Player, Westbrook and his triple-double reminded us that KD certainly isn't the Thunder's only valuable player.

Durant and Westbrook were simply too much for five Clippers to handle at any given time. Their two-man game beat a Los Angeles lineup filled with options, but apparently short of a reliable stopper or two. 

KD got off to an especially torrid start, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Westbrook looked for his offense early and often as well, notching 19 first-half points.

The Thunder made a concerted effort to create opportunities for their shoot-first point guard, setting better screens and giving him space to operate. In turn, Westbrook didn't hesitate to take what the defense gave him. He did his damage from all over the place, proving once again to be one of the game's most dynamic scorers. Here's a look at his shot chart from Game 2.

Russ' Game 2 shot chart.
Russ' Game 2 shot

But Westbrook also proved he's more than just a scorer. Though his final assist involved an especially charitable judgement from the scorer's table, there's little doubt Westbrook spent much of the night looking to set up teammates.

He understands as well as anyone that he and Durant will need help to win this series. They won't combine for 63 points in every game—though they could certainly come close to it. And even if they do, they'll continue to need consistent contributions from the likes of Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, who combined for 28 points on Wednesday night.

They'll also probably need more out of the bench, which scored just 13 points in Game 2.

The statement has been made, but it's somewhat redundant at this point. We know Durant and Westbrook can score. The bigger question is what the Thunder will get from everyone else. That question isn't limited to the offensive end, either.

Lost in the celebration of Durant and Westbrook's exploits is the fact that OKC held the Clippers to 101 points. That may sound like a lot, but in this series it's a veritable defensive victory. 

Look no further than Game 1. The difference between the two games isn't that Oklahoma City scored significantly more points in the latter; it's that they didn't give up 122 points. That's the real difference-maker here.

Yes, the Thunder were more efficient. Yes, Durant and Westbrook filled up the stat sheet. But it was Oklahoma City's defensive energy that won this game.

The Clippers turned the ball over just eight times in Game 1. The Thunder forced 14 turnovers Wednesday night. OKC's superstars certainly can't take credit for all of those, though they did combine for five steals.

For his part, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers thought the problem went beyond Durant and Westbrook, saying after the game (per TNT's coverage), "I thought they were by far the more physical team...We can win if they both have good offensive games, but what we can't do is give them that plus everything else."

The "everything else" included another substantial rebounding deficit. Though the Clippers dominated Game 1, they were out-rebounded by a 47-to-31 margin. In Game 2, the Clippers were similarly out-rebounded 52 to 36.

OKC's superstars aside, that kind of advantage on the glass will prove damning for Los Angeles. The Clippers simply have to be more aggressive and physical, quicker to the ball and more energetic. Talented as the Clippers are, this is principally a question of effort.

The size is there. The pieces are there. But something isn't.

It wasn't there in Game 1 either, to be sure. It just got overlooked because the Clippers made 55 percent of their field-goal attempts and ran the Thunder out of the building. Unless Rivers' club can guarantee that kind of shooting performance in three more games, something's got to give.

Rivers wasn't the only coach who thought the game came down to something besides Durant and Westbrook. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks similarly attributed the improved outcome to something collective.

None of that makes the Thunder's star duo irrelevant. Beyond scoring all the points, they also set a tone. They're leaders first and foremost, and their energy can spill over to the supporting cast. They have to be aggressive on both ends of the floor. And Wednesday night, they were.

They were also looking to get each other involved. After tallying a combined eight assists in Game 1, they posted 19 in Game 2. That speaks to the "connectivity" Brooks mentioned, the fact that there's something synergistic that occurs when OKC (or any other team) starts playing unselfishly.

To some degree, you want Durant and Westbrook to be selfish. But you also want them making the right decisions.

When they do, they're easily the best one-two punch in basketball. Better than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Better than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

The question going forward isn't which Durant and Westbrook we'll see. They'll get theirs one way or the other. The real question is which Thunder we'll see, which collective unit emerges on the road as the Clippers attempt to rebound (both figuratively and literally).

Though the momentum has momentarily swung Oklahoma City's way, we'd be crazy to think it will stay that way for long. This series is still due for a nail-biter or two, and the Clippers figure to be far more energized upon their return home.

We probably won't see Jamal Crawford held to 2-of-13 shooting again, and we probably will see better efforts from both Paul and Griffin. They combined for just 26 field-goal attempts in Game 2 and missed chunks of the fourth quarter with the game already out of hand.

So much in this series will continue to depend on who gets off to the hot start. In Game 1 it was Paul cashing in on six first-half three-pointers. In Game 2 it was utter domination by Durant and Westbrook early on. And that domination set the tone for the rest of the game. Per Royce Young of Daily Thunder:

The Thunder looked far more prepared for tonight, settling in to a better flow and rhythm. They didn’t seem shell-shocked by the Clippers speed and athleticism, instead embracing the tempo and helter skelter nature of the game and using it to their advantage. What we saw is what this team is capable of, and what makes them so frustrating at times.

Both of these teams are so explosive that whoever throws the first real punch is in pretty good position to land a knockout.

We've caught a glimpse of each club's best uppercut. We haven't seen what happens when they both throw one at the same time. Those contests will be decided by little things—by rebounds, turnovers, execution.

And they may well be decided by the superstars, both in terms of their concrete contributions and the tones they set. 

If that's indeed the case, Durant and Westbrook's biggest statement might be yet to come. We may have just seen their opening act.