The Clippers defeated the Thunder 122-105 in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinals series in Oklahoma City on Monday.
• Chris Paul goes nuts. After the Clippers' first-round victory over the Warriors, coach Doc Rivers said acquiring shooters was his top priority last summer because he had too often found himself sitting in his office following playoff losses, yearning for more potency on the perimeter. L.A.'s surprising blowout victory over Oklahoma City in Game 1 stands as Exhibit A in making Rivers' case: The Clippers' outside onslaught built a 24-point second-quarter lead, effectively ending this game even before halftime.
The twist, though, was that an incumbent, not one of Rivers' newcomers, did the bulk of the perimeter damage. Even more surprising: The leading marksman was Chris Paul, a superstar who has never been known for his outside shooting.
This season, the league average for three-point shooting was 36 percent; Paul is a career 35.7 percent three-point shooter, and he shot 36.8 percent this year. What we saw on Monday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena was about as far from average as you can get. Paul canned eight of his nine three-pointers, including five straight in the final 6:20 of the first quarter. He finished with a game-high 32 points and 10 assists.
"That's what I do, that's what I do," Paul joked afterward. "That's a lie! This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don't count on it for Game 2."
Indeed, Paul obliterated his previous career high for three-pointers (five), tied his career high for three-point attempts (he had shot nine on only four previous occasions) and became just the 19th player since 1986 to hit at least eight threes in a playoff game. His shooting flurry completed a 39-point first quarter for the Clippers and it set the table for L.A.'s bench unit, which would further break open the game early in the second quarter.
"When somebody has it going like that, you just want to stay out of the way as much as possible," said Blake Griffin, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Paul can beat you in the pick-and-roll, he can beat you with his mid-range shooting, he can beat you with his reads and he can beat you with his brain. When he's beating you by burying jumper after jumper, there's not much you can do except live to fight another day.
"I don't think you expect anybody to go 8-for-9 from three," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He got hot. Great players can do that. ... They went on a three-point tear and we were playing from behind the rest of the game."
The shooting display succeeded in taking the crowd out of the game, and it put to bed any concerns about the state of Paul's right hamstring, which had bothered him during the first round. Rivers said he noticed Paul moving better on Monday morning, and he credited the point guard's assertiveness in the half-court for "setting the tone" against Oklahoma City.
To be sure, this wasn't stand-still, feet-set, corner-three launching from Paul; he simply rode his hot hand before and after getting the rest of L.A.'s offense going. The points came so easily that the Clippers hit the 100-point mark with nearly 14 minutes remaining.
Paul entered the postseason on The Point Forward's All-Bullseye Team because of his lack of postseason success and the strength of the roster assembled around him. After a dominating performance in a runaway victory that gave the Clippers home-court advantage, Paul sounded like a man looking to make the most of the best opportunity of his career.
"I've never been past the second round and this is my ninth season," he said. "This team here is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, it's fun to be around each other. The biggest thing was moving the ball. I wasn't just coming down and making unbelievable shots."
• Culture shock. The two teams traded punches for the first seven minutes or so before Paul's flurry and an extended push from L.A.'s second unit combined to create an eye-popping 47-23 run in just 14 minutes of first-half action. The points were coming from absolutely everywhere for the Clippers: Griffin, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, even Glen Davis and Danny Granger all got in on the fun.
That stretch was a reminder that L.A. finished with the league's most efficient offense this season, while also underscoring just how drastically Oklahoma City must shift its focus after a grueling first-round series with the ground-and-pound Grizzlies. This isn't just a matter of shifting from defense-first Memphis, the only West playoff team with a below-average offensive efficiency, to the fun-and-gun Clippers. The nature of the attack is fundamentally different: Memphis attempted the league's fewest three-pointers and played at the league's slowest pace, while L.A. ranked in the top 10 in both categories.
"It's definitely a different series, a different team, a different style of play," Brooks said. "This is a team that gets out in transition, with bigs that finish above the rim, a team that can shoot threes."
The challenge against the Grizzlies was generating open looks and some degree of open-court offense. The task against the Clippers is to keep up in a shootout with an opponent who has capable offensive players at every position and throughout both its first and second units. Paul's huge night made that transition impossible, as his eight three-pointers were more than the Grizzlies made as a team in any of their seven first-round games against the Thunder.
"Memphis didn't have guys on the perimeter that can score; this team does," said Kevin Durant, who had 25 points (on 9-for-19 shooting), four rebounds and four assists. "Memphis wasn't a three-point-shooting team; they used the whole shot clock, the Clippers don't. We have to switch gears quickly, focus on how we can control the paint and the perimeter."
Oklahoma City played two consecutive do-or-die games to close out its series with Memphis. Wednesday's Game 2 already looks like another such challenge for the Thunder. The time to adjust is now; hesitation will be fatal.
• Thunder face starting lineup decision. Brooks' search for offense against the Grizzlies led him to change his starting lineup, as he inserted Caron Butler for Thabo Sefolosha. That move paid dividends, but Brooks went back to his traditional look for Game 1. With the Clippers running up 122 points despite taking their foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter, it's fair to wonder whether starting two no-offense players in Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins is a viable approach.
The tricky part in this decision is that L.A. didn't go on its big run right out of the gate. As noted above, the two teams played even for the first seven minutes before the floodgates opened. As their Clippers counterparts put up big numbers, Butler and fellow reserve Reggie Jackson combined to score just seven points on 2-for-15 shooting, and there aren't too many other options on the bench to pick up the scoring slack in a meaningful way.
Brooks now must decide whether to: 1) stick to his guns and hope that a better all-around defensive effort and stronger play from Butler and Jackson off the bench can turn things around, or 2) ditch, or demote, one or both of his one-way players in search of more spacing and shooting.
"We'll look and see what adjustments we have to make," Brooks said, when asked if he would consider moving Butler back into a starting role. "Our start was good."