The LA Clippers rolled to another dominant win on Friday night, this time defeating Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the Oklahoma City Thunder by a final of 120-106.
That's not to say it was always as close as the final score suggests, though. The Thunder were in control for the first few minutes of the contest before the Clippers built their lead as high as 20 points before the end of the first quarter. That lead was boosted to 27 halfway through the second, but Oklahoma City did well to stick around for the remainder of the game.
The third quarter — which has been LA's bread and butter lately — actually went in OKC's favor. In fact, the second half was won by the Thunder, 53-50. There was just no coming back from the massive lead the Clippers had built earlier in the game.
So while it was nearly a wire-to-wire victory, it wouldn't be fair to say that the Clippers weren't tested. Oklahoma City never backed down and fought to the finish.
The Thunder will get another shot at the Clippers on Sunday, as these two teams are slated to meet again at Staples Center in a little more than 24 hours. LA will need to be prepared — not only will this be a dreaded 1:00 p.m. tip, but OKC proved that they aren't a team that goes away easy.
But before we get into Sunday's game, let's focus on some things we can take from LA's effort last night.
Serge Ibaka's Best Game as a Clipper
Serge Ibaka has quietly been one of LA's most consistent players so far this season — especially on the offensive side of the floor. The seven-footer has scored at least 10 points in all but four of his 15 appearances this season, and he nearly set a season-high in scoring in Friday's win over his former team with 17.
It was easily Ibaka's most efficient game of the year, as he went 6-for-6 inside the three-point line and sank one of his two looks from beyond the arc. It was also his second-best night on the glass, as Ibaka collected 11 boards and helped limit the Thunder to just 29 on the night.
"Serge is a vet," Coach Ty Lue said after the game. "He understands the game. His whole philosophy is getting [Paul George] and Kawhi and those guys open, and the ball is going to find him if we're playing the right way. I thought he did a really good job on the offensive glass and being big down low and having a presence. When he is playing like that, we are a different team."
Ibaka was certainly helped by the fact that the Thunder lack a legitimate presence in the paint, but he had a strong night nonetheless. Look for him to play another large role on Sunday.
Nicolas Batum, Teammate Extraordinaire
Nicolas Batum has gotta say, Friday was a good day.
Not only did the veteran wing go for 14 points and drain all four of his looks from three-point range against the Thunder, but he and his wife, Lily, welcomed a new daughter into the world just a few hours before tip-off.
Few people, if anybody, figured Batum would play — but during Ty Lue's pre-game presser, he told reporters that Batum wanted to take the floor and that the team was working on getting him cleared to do so.
Batum's teammates were full of praise after the game.
"Nic is a great teammate," Marcus Morris said. "He's better than me, because I would've stayed my a** at that hospital... Nic is an easy-going guy. We're similar, he's a team-first guy, and I'm happy we got him."
"Man, we appreciate it," Paul George said. "We would've respected him either way. We know the decision, and how big of a moment this is for his family. My respect for him is 100. He had a win-win situation. He's showing his commitment to this team. To be able to balance both is an incredible thing that he did."
Batum was already one of the most well-liked guys on the team, and after last night, it's hard to imagine his status will change anytime soon.
Clippers Continue to Roll
LA's win over the Thunder on Friday night was their sixth-straight. And while that (surprisingly) isn't the longest active streak in the league, the Clippers have looked as dominant as any team during that stretch.
Over their last six games, the Clippers are averaging roughly 124 points and are outscoring opponents by an average margin of 18.6 points per game. What's more, LA is holding its opponents to just 100.8 points per game over its last five, which is a tremendous stretch of defense for a team that's been surprisingly average on that end of the floor so far this season.
If the Clippers continue to play as well as they have been, there's no reason why they can't stretch this streak even further. After they host the Thunder again on Sunday, LA will head East for a six-game road trip with games against the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers.
There are certainly some tough games in that stretch, but the Clippers are currently playing like they're the league's best team. It's going to take a strong effort from any team to take them down.