Friday night’s face-off between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder doubled as the most competitive and entertaining game during the conference semifinals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. When the dust settled, there could be only one winner, though, and the Thunder were able to take a 2-1 lead in the series on the strength of a ??-?? victory.
The first half between two of the most talented teams remaining in the playoffs was extremely entertaining and closely contested. In fact, there were a staggering fourteen lead changes in just the opening 24 minutes of action, and each team exchanged body blows with the other. Blake Griffin (16 points, 8-9 FT) and Chris Paul (14 points, 8 assists, 2 steals) were excellent in the first half for the Clippers, while their counterparts were equally dominant in the early going, with Kevin Durant (21 points, 7-13 FG) and Russell Westbrook (13 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) doing their part for Oklahoma City.
After the half, the back and forth continued to the point where both teams were firmly in the hunt for a victory until the final minutes. Then, Russell Westbrook knocked down a crucial three to give OKC a 4-point lead with 2:09 to go, and after a stop on the other end, his partner in crime (Durant) followed it up with a fadeaway that pushed the advantage to six with 1:23 remaining. From there, the Clippers committed an ill-timed loose ball foul and despite their ability to get a stop on the other end, Matt Barnes missed a three with 41 seconds to go, and that was that.
The Thunder’s leading duo gets all of the credit (and justifiably so), but the third member of their big three, Serge Ibaka, had an explosive night in this one. Ibaka was virtually unconscious with his mid-range jumper, and all told, the big man finished with 20 points on 9 for 10 shooting to go with 6 rebounds. Of course, Durant and Westbrook wouldn’t be outdone, as the league MVP scored 36 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 6 assists while Westbrook added 23 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds of his own.
Any time you can snatch a victory on the road during a playoff series, it is big, and that is certainly the case here for the visiting Thunder. Oklahoma City played incredibly well offensively here (shooting 56% from the floor as a team) and if they can reach that high peak again in this series, they’ll be highly difficult to beat. The Clippers will now be in desperation mode as they host game four, and that turns into a virtual must-win for Los Angeles. Stay tuned.