Three-Pointers: Russell Westbrook ignites Thunder, squaring series with Clippers
The Thunder beat the Clippers 112-101 in Game 2 at Oklahoma City on Wednesday to even their Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Friday in Los Angeles.
• Russell Westbrook, everywhere. Kevin Durant covered a lot of ground in his extended MVP acceptance speech on Tuesday night, discussing his faith, opening up about his rough childhood and expressing gratitude to every teammate individually. There's no debating that signature moment of Durant's address came when he referred to his mother, Wanda Pratt, as the "real MVP" for raising him and his brother by herself, as he described sharing a group hug in their first, unfurnished apartment.
The lasting basketball-related moment, though, came near the end, when Durant turned his attention to his All-Star partner in crime, Russell Westbrook. By this point, Durant had offered thanks to the likes of Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round pick who has yet to play a single minute for Oklahoma City. The longer Durant carried on without mentioning Westbrook, the more the anticipation built.
“I know you guys think I forgot Russ," Durant joked, drawing laughter because such a snub would have rippled endlessly through the sports media. He then continued by making it clear that he had intentionally saved his best teammate for last.
"I can speak all night about Russell," he said. "An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me. I don’t take him for granted. There’s days I just want to tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes, but I know there are days that you want to do the same to me. I love you, man, I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player. I’m the first to have your back through it all. Stay the person you are, everybody loves you here. I love you. … You’re an MVP-caliber player. It’s a blessing to play with you.”
You could see the desperation of Oklahoma City's 1-0 series hole and the shared pride in Durant's MVP award collide in Game 2, as the Thunder switched from being a team that watched helplessly on Monday to a team that drove the action throughout on Wednesday. Westbrook was the motor, embodying Durant's praise by playing disruptive defense, hitting the glass, pounding defenders in the post and keying a 37-point first quarter that put the Thunder in the driver's seat.
"Russ played harder than all of us combined," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. "He was all over the place."
Westbrook posted his third triple-double of the postseason, finishing with 31 points (on 13-for-22 shooting), 10 rebounds and 10 assists, even if the final dime was a charitable decision by the home scorekeeper. He added three steals too. Thunder coach Scott Brooks had promised after Game 1 that the Clippers would "feel" his team's defense in Game 2, and Westbrook delivered on that in full. Calling his Game 1 performance "a little lazy," Westbrook played both frantic and controlled, if that's possible, hitting the floor on numerous occasions and instinctively seizing opportunities without a second thought.
"I thought Russell's defense was as good as it's been all year," Brooks said.
Like Westbrook,who was flying around from the opening tip, Durant made his first shot, a three-pointer, and never looked back. He closed with a game-high 32 points (on 10-for-22 shooting), 12 rebounds and nine assists. One more assist, and the two stars would have become the first teammates to register triple-doubles in the same playoff game.
"It was more fueled by our [Game 1] loss," Durant said, when asked whether his speech had generated the momentum that carried Oklahoma City in Game 2. "We lost by 20 points. Guys were pissed."
The twin MVP vision that Durant elucidated on Tuesday was supplemented by the best shared performance of the playoffs by the Thunder's other starters. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka did well to bottle up the Clippers' frontcourt. Thabo Sefolosha turned up the defense in the second half and scored 14 points, tying a season high. The Thunder were +16 on the glass, +12 on points in the paint and +8 on second-chance points.
"We weren't very physical tonight," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "Mentally, either, I don't think we were very tough. ... The energy found the ball. Perkins did it over and over again. Sefolosha did it over and over again."
After conceding home-court advantage in ugly fashion, the Thunder's night-and-day performance in Game 2 restored the balance in a series expected to be tight. For the second day in a row, Durant made sure to single out Westbrook for praise.
"We have a high standard we try to reach," he said. "One thing about Russ, he demands so much out of everybody. He brings the level of the team up by his intensity and effort."
• Kevin Durant, honored again. As if there wasn't enough excitement for Thunder fans entering the game, Durant formally received his MVP trophy from commissioner Adam Silver at center court before tip-off. Before the presentation, a goosebumps-inducing video montage played that laid out Durant's impact on the local community. It was an impressive tribute.
• (Some of) the lights go out. With less than a minute to go before halftime, some of the Chesapeake Energy Arena's lights suddenly went off. Reports of inclement weather in the area initially appeared to be the culprit, and fans were actually encouraged to remain in the building for an extended period of time before the storm passed. The Associated Press reported, though, that the Thunder were unsure what officially caused the power surge.
Here, the arena wasn't entirely dark, so the two teams agreed to play out the remaining 27 seconds of the first half in the low-light setting before a fix could be found at halftime. During that time, Blake Griffin completely missed a pass and Sefolosha airballed a three-pointer, briefly turning a May playoff showdown into an October preseason exhibition. Thankfully, the lights were restored for the second half and the Thunder cruised to the series-evening win.