Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, May 9, 2014 at 7:00 AM
Game One of the Western Conference second round series matching the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder was over surprisingly quickly. The visiting underdog Clippers shot lights out in the first half…and coasted to an easy 122-105 victory to snatch away home court advantage in the series.
Game Two had some suspense here and there. But, Oklahoma City put the hammer down in the second half on the way to a 112-101 victory that wasn’t as close as it sounds. The Clippers softened up down the stretch, seemingly content to bring their service break back home where they will try to win two games. (Though, conspiracy theorists might suggest that players were disheartened to learn that the wife of Donald Sterling was going to try to keep the franchise “within the family!”)
In terms of the expected intensity…the projected war between these two championship caliber teams, the series feels like it hasn’t even started yet. Game One was over before viewers had settled in. Game Two was the logical bounce back. NOW it’s time to play a best three-out-of-five with the pre-series underdog Clippers positioned for a rare 2-1-1-1 home/road sequence that could open the door to the Western finals.
Let’s review strengths and weaknesses entering the REAL beginning of the series…
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MATCHUP STRENGTHS
The MVP (Kevin Durant is the most explosive scoring force on the floor)
Speed (Russell Westbrook is the fastest force on the floor)
Rebounding (+32 through just two games!)
Crunch Time Experience (they’ve been to a league final)
Many pundits were granting the West to the Thunder after they looked so impressive in Games 6 and 7 vs. Memphis. At their best, maybe they do have the best chance to advance through the brackets (but both the Clippers and Spurs can make very compelling cases themselves). There’s just no way to hold down Durant for seven full games. Memphis messed him up…but couldn’t take him out.
The problem is, Oklahoma City has real problems in the area of turnovers because Westbrook is so reckless, and in the area of depth because Durant and Westbrook do so much of the heavy lifting on offense. If either one gets hurt (or just hobbled), or in foul trouble, then scoring becomes a mismatch for the other team.
LA CLIPPERS MATCHUP STRENGTHS
Ball Protection (Chris Paul really does provide insurance!)
Versatility (Blake Griffin is the most potent “inside” force in the series)
Both of these teams have very high ceilings when things are clicking. You get the sense that LAC has “more” ways to click though because of their depth. It’s gotta be Durant and Westbrook for OKC. The Clippers might beat you inside, might get hot outside, might outscore you on the fast break, might pick up 5-10 extra points at the free throw line.
Complicating matters for handicappers are the following Wildcards:
*Westbrook of Oklahoma City is so volatile that he could win or lose the series by himself. He’s relentless…which either results in points or turnovers. OKC seems to have limited control in determining which way it’s going to go when matched up against other elite teams.
*The Clippers aren’t through dealing with Sterling distractions, as new headlines this week have made clear. That almost cost them the last round until Commissioner Silver inspired them with his lifetime ban of Sterling. Will they need a new inspiration if lawsuit talk gets in the way of basketball?
Hopefully this electric mix will create a series for the ages. Given the talent on the floor, this is a matchup worth of the championship round. Too bad it’s only a second round showdown in the loaded Western Conference in an era of stacked rosters. Let’s see what the market is saying about Game Two…
Las Vegas Line:
LA Clippers by 3.5, total of 214.5
It’s clear that Oklahoma City is seen as the superior team overall. They were laying -5.5 at home, but are only getting +3.5 at Staples Center, even though the Clippers are the “zig-zag” team that should be getting bounce back respect. The line dynamics suggest that OKC would be -1 on a neutral court…and that home floor is being valued at 4.5 points in this matchup.
The first two games landed on 227 and 213, with three-point volume falling from 24 makes to 17 makes in Game Two. The market is expecting a tempo similar to Game Two…but with the Clippers playing better while OKC plays worse.
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