Game 3 of the the Western Conference semifinal series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers had a little bit of everything.
Four of the top players in the game were playing at the peak of their powers, the Staples Center crowd was buzzing from the opening tip, leads were exchanged throughout the second half and the road team eventually pulled it out with an incredible fourth-quarter performance.
The Thunder overcame a four-point deficit heading into the final frame to steal an important game on the road, winning 118-112.
The first two games of this series were also very entertaining and featured plenty of offense. In setting up Game 3, Cliff Brunt of the Associated Press pointed out the discrepancy between that and the Eastern Conference playoff contest that took place earlier Friday:
Brunt also pointed out a primary concern for the Clippers entering Game 3: shutting down a red-hot Westbrook.
Westbrook past 5 games: 28.4 pts. 9.6 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 49% FG, 89% FT, 3 triple doubles. #Thunder— Cliff Brunt (@CliffBruntAP) May 10, 2014
Once play started, the Clippers ran their initial offense through Griffin. Griffin at one point was actually outscoring the entire Oklahoma City team, per the NBA on ESPN:
With 7:45 left in the 1st, Blake Griffin is outscoring the Thunder 10-8. Clippers lead by 6 in Game 3. #OKCvsLAC— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 10, 2014
Of course, even with Griffin doing much of the early scoring, it wouldn’t be a Clippers game without a highlight or two:
As expected, the first quarter featured plenty of points. The Los Angeles Clippers’ official Twitter page and ESPN Stats & Info noted that it was business as usual for both sides, as Los Angeles built a 33-29 lead in the first 12 minutes:
#Clippers 30, Thunder 25. Fourth time in series LAC has had 30+ points in a quarter.— Los Angeles Clippers (@LAClippers) May 10, 2014
Kevin Durant has scored at least 10 points in the 1st quarter in 4 of his last 5 games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 10, 2014
As the second quarter began, Brunt kept fans posted on the important developments:
The second quarter was defined by multiple runs on each side. The Thunder started off hot, as Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk and the NBA on ESPN pointed out. What's more, they were outrebounding the Clippers by a significant margin:
For comparison, Thunder 12-17 shooting at rim. Getting clean looks while Clips working hard for theirs.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) May 10, 2014
The Clippers also seemed to lose focus at times:
#Clippers complaining a lot to the refs right now. This is the "clutter" Doc Rivers talks about.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) May 10, 2014
Rivers was upset with these same distractions after Los Angeles' Game 2 loss, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
Every single possession, you have to have great focus and you have to be locked in, and today we were not. I thought it was because of all the clutter today. We're upset at the officials, we're upset at everything instead of turning our anger on the opponent and focus. Tonight we just didn't have it.
However, the tide started to turn when Los Angeles pushed the ball in transition and picked up some easy baskets. The team's Twitter page and Brunt made a note of it:
#Clippers back in front after 6-0 run. (49-48).— Los Angeles Clippers (@LAClippers) May 10, 2014
#Clippers with just one turnover. Amazing that a team with so much firepower that pushes the pace so hard takes care of the ball so well.— Cliff Brunt (@CliffBruntAP) May 10, 2014
Paul capped off an up-and-down first half with a deep three-pointer to give the Clippers a narrow 63-61 lead.
The Thunder controlled the early going of the third quarter, partially because Los Angeles' energy level just wasn't there, as Woike and ESPN's Arash Markazi pointed out:
Really flat start to the quarter for the Clippers.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) May 10, 2014
Doc imploring the Clippers to run. "We're just walking. Let's go!"— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 10, 2014
Again, the Clippers were a focused on the refs, but it seemed like Griffin had good reason to be, per Markazi, Grantland's Bill Barnwell and the NBA on ESPN:
Blake Griffin with a bloody nose. He's showing it to the officials to no avail. Brushes aside trainer on his way to the bench.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 10, 2014
Can’t believe Blake Griffin made his nose bleed— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) May 10, 2014
Part of the reason the Thunder held a narrow lead throughout much of the third quarter was Durant's aggression in the paint, which ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:
16 of Kevin Durant's 29 points so far have come in the paint; he's never scored more than 18 paint points in the playoffs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 10, 2014
However, it didn't take long for the Clippers to pick up their energy level, given the buzz in the crowd and the talent on the team standing across from them. Los Angeles battled back to take an 87-86 lead after Paul was fouled on a three-pointer. The foul call was questionable at best, and the Thunder paid the price:
Reggie Jackson gets a T for arguing a call.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) May 10, 2014
That wasn't even the most interesting foul call of the last minutes of the third quarter because Durant fouled Jamal Crawford on his half-court attempt at the buzzer. As a result of the three free throws, and some incredible production from Paul, the Clippers took a 90-86 lead into the final quarter.
Paul sat out the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, and that four-point lead quickly evaporated into a deficit. Durant was simply abusing Jared Dudley in the early going, as Eamonn Brennan of ESPN and the following NBA highlight clip pointed out:
Jared Dudley needs so much more help on Durant than Big Baby can provide— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) May 10, 2014
Even with Durant doing his thing, the Clippers were trading blows with the Thunder. In fact, the entire middle of the fourth quarter was basically one team capturing a lead and then the other one seizing it right back.
Griffin was carrying the Clippers on the low block, as Marc J. Spears of Yahoo acknowledged:
This is about as Mack Truck as I've ever seen @blakegriffin32 play. And OKC has some Diesels.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 10, 2014
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders captured everyone's mindset when the Thunder held a 102-101 lead with less than five minutes remaining:
"I hope OKC-LAC goes seven games." - Everyone— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 10, 2014
Oklahoma City was finally able to open up a bit of separation when Serge Ibaka flushed home a dunk with four minutes remaining. Considering he had five fouls, his presence on the floor was critical:
Serge Ibaka = #beastmode.— NBA (@NBA) May 10, 2014
Durant drove home the dagger with a late fadeaway jumper and the Thunder carried that momentum to a 118-112 victory.
Game 4 in this back-and-forth series is back in Los Angeles Sunday.
Who wins Game 4?
From the Clippers' perspective, it is easy to be discouraged going forward. They received incredible games from both of their superstars on their home floor and still lost to the Thunder, thanks to the brilliance of Durant, Westbrook and company.
Oklahoma City will have nothing to lose Sunday since it seized home-court advantage back and should come out with the same intensity that we saw in its nearly flawless fourth quarter.
The Thunder were simply the better team when it mattered most Friday, and that is something that can stick with both teams mentally as this competitive series progresses.