Do LA Clippers Still Control Series with OKC Thunder Despite Game 2 Loss?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 7, 2014: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers dribbles the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 7, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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There's a tendency to overreact after every game of a playoff series, so don't be surprised when the common spin on the Oklahoma City Thunder's 112-101 win in Game 2 over the Los Angeles Clippers is that Kevin Durant and Co. are back in the driver's seat.

Sure, that's a defensible stance, given the top-to-bottom beating OKC just laid on the Clippers to tie things up at 1-1. But we should know better than to make too much of a single game.

The Clippers looked bad on Wednesday, both in the box score and in their overall demeanor. But as the series heads back to Los Angeles, they're the team in control.


Get Over It

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 7: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

That doesn't mean the Clips are in perfect position, though. They'll have to get over the sting of their drubbing, which won't be easy.

Russell Westbrook was a force of nature more powerful than the lightning storm that knocked out the bulbs in Chesapeake Energy Arena just before halftime. He shrugged off dopes like me who suggested he had to slow things down and play more like the measured, careful Chris Paul.

Instead of dialing back, Westbrook revved up, torching the Clippers for 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on 13-of-22 shooting. We all know that 10th assist was bogus, a gift from a generous hometown official scorer. But that shouldn't detract from the wild, ferocious way he dominated the game.

He was flat-out scary, aggressive in a way that bordered on frightening. Athletically, there's still no guard who can match him in the NBA, and the Clips had no answer for him on Wednesday.

Durant was just as good, tossing in 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds and nine assists. He rode the momentum of his pregame MVP award to a vintage performance (if we can even call something a 25-year-old does "vintage").

On balance, OKC was just better than the Clippers in Game 2. It dominated on the boards, amassing a 52-36 edge while shooting over 50 percent from the field.

The Clippers' big names couldn't equal the production of the Thunder's stars—not by a long shot.

Paul wasn't nearly as hot from the field as he was in Game 1, finishing with a solid 17 points and 11 assists on 6-of-13 shooting. Not bad, but a far cry from the 32 points he totaled on just 14 shots in Game 1.

And Blake Griffin wasn't much of a factor either, scoring just 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting while showing little interest in defending.

Even the Clippers' typically reliable reserves came up empty.

Nobody in L.A.'s locker room will be happy watching film from this one.


The Mental Game

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Clippers also have to suppress the emotions that undercut their performance on Wednesday. They're an irritable, chippy bunch at the best of times. But when things start going wrong, their collective tempers tend to run extra hot.

Paul gets feistier than usual, and he did just that in Game 2. Frustrated throughout, he picked up a technical from the bench in the fourth quarter for barking at the officials.

Griffin was no better. With him, you could see things unraveling in advance. And Steven Adams took particular delight in prodding the already aggravated Griffin.

It's not a good look when a rookie (even one with an earned reputation as a pot-stirrer) gets under a superstar's skin.

Look, orneriness is part of the Clippers' makeup. They get it from Paul and it often gives them an edge against opponents who aren't as willing to fight for every toss-up possession and 50-50 ball. But we saw the ugly side of L.A.'s cranky approach in this one.

The Clips will have to collect themselves in advance of Game 3.


About that Advantage...

May 5, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) react to play in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game one of the second round of the 2

It's always hard to ignore the most recent information, and this game will have many questioning all the great things they said about the Clippers after Game 1. But for all that, despite everything that looked so bad, the Clips are still in control.

There are five games left in this series, and three of them will be played in the Staples Center, where the Clippers were 34-7. That means L.A. just has to win its home games to take the series. Simple!

Obviously, the Thunder will put up a fight (They split two games in Los Angeles this season.), but the Clippers are in the highly advantageous position of having stolen a crucial road game already.

That Game 1 win gave the Clips home-court advantage for the balance of this series. OKC can take it back with a road win, but right now, that edge belongs to the Clippers.

L.A. also has the advantage in the coaching department, which is critical in a series with two fairly even teams. Adjustments matter more in situations like this, and there's just no chance Scott Brooks makes them as quickly or effectively as Doc Rivers.

Rebounding from this loss won't necessarily be easy, but Rivers has the steady hand and cool head to do it. And yes, that's an implicit shot at Brooks and his general refusal to do anything tactical. Ever.

OKC hit a gear in Game 2 that we often discuss—the one that elevates it above all of its competition. The Thunder's raw athleticism can be too much for any foe on the right night, and we saw the Clippers fall victim on Wednesday.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 07:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates a three-point shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 7
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

But we know the Thunder don't hit that gear consistently.

They were motivated by the Game 1 loss, desperate to avoid an 0-2 hole that almost certainly would have been fatal and inspired by KD's MVP speech on Tuesday. Those factors won't be in play when Game 3 rolls around.

The Clippers know they're facing an exceptionally dangerous team, and the Thunder have the higher seed for a reason: They were better than L.A. over the course of the regular season.

Right now, though, the Clippers are in charge. If they can keep their cool and somehow prevent KD and Westbrook from playing their best on the same night, they'll be in great shape moving forward.