By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: Clippers vs. Thunder: Game 2
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder evened their conference semifinals series with the Los Angeles Clippers at one game apiece on Wednesday.
Russell Westbrook recorded his third triple-double in his last five games, with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Durant added 32, 12 and nine, and OKC scored an efficient 112 points on 95 possessions (118 per 100). But the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 was on the other end of the floor.
These are two of the three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season. But the Clippers weren’t so balanced against their strongest competition. No team’s difference suffered more when it played against teams with winning records. At the same time, they were the only team that was better offensively against winning teams.
So, the team that gets just enough stops — not giving up any 30-point quarters will do the trick — will be the one that wins games in this series. In Game 2, that was the Thunder.
The biggest difference in the Clippers’ numbers from Monday to Wednesday was their 3-point percentage. After shooting 15-for-29 (52 percent) from beyond the arc in Game 1, L.A. shot 9-for-27 (33 percent) in Game 2.
Did the Thunder defend the 3-point line better? Sort of, but they still didn’t defend it very well.
According to SportVU, the Thunder contested just 23.6 percent of their opponents’ jump shots in the regular season, the second-lowest rate in the league (higher than only that of New York). In the playoffs, that number is down to 20.4 percent.
The Thunder got away with it in the first round, with Memphis shooting just 33 percent from outside the paint. Grizzlies not named Mike Miller shot a brutal 17-for-78 (22 percent) from 3-point range.
But the Clippers have five guys in their rotation who shot better than the league average (36.0 percent) on at least 2.4 attempts per game. They can make you pay for not contesting on the perimeter.
They did that early in Game 2, hitting their first four 3-pointers. The first 3 came as a result of OKC over-helping on pick-and-rolls.
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1. Matt Barnes being left all alone on the left wing, because Thabo Sefolosha went all the way to the other side of the paint to help on a J.J. Redick/Blake Griffin pick-and-pop…
2. Redick being left alone in the left corner, because Sefolosha had both feet in the paint on a Chris Paul/Griffin pick-and-pop…
3. Barnes being left alone on the right wing, because Durant went over to help on another Paul/Griffin pick-and-roll…
This is how the Thunder defend. And only four teams allowed their opponents to shoot a lower percentage in the paint. But their tendency to over-help yields a lot of open jumpers.
In Game 1, 50 of the Clippers’ 54 jumpers (93 percent) were uncontested. In Game 2, 43 of their 58 jumpers (74 percent) were uncontested.
After L.A.’s 4-for-4 start, the Thunder did do a slightly better job of recovering out to the 3-point line. Here Steven Adams doesn’t sag too much and is in position to contest Jamal Crawford in the corner after Glen Davis sets a back-pick on Derek Fisher…
But there were also more open shots and the Clippers let OKC off the hook a little, not getting many more weak-side looks off the pick-and-roll. A lot of their 3-point attempts came off the dribble, off of post-ups, or on the strong side. Some came too early in the shot clock, before the Clips could really make the Thunder defense collapse.
As with any defense, the more you make it work, the more likely you’re going to get an open shot. Against the Thunder, those open shots are more likely to come on the perimeter.
Paul isn’t going to shoot 8-for-9 from 3-point range (like he did in Game 1) again. But the Clippers will continue to have opportunities to beat the Thunder’s defense from the outside.