The Oklahoma City Thunder came into Monday night's game against the Clippers in Los Angeles with the best record in the NBA and having won 11 of their last 12 games. The Clippers feel like they are legitimate contenders, and coming off a victory in Denver on Sunday night, a win over the Thunder would establish them as such. The Clippers got the victory in impressive, wire-to-wire fashion, 112-100. And no one really cares. All anyone cares about is the dunk.
Here's the scene. Already leading by 19 early in the third quarter, Chris Paul hit Blake Griffin with a perfect bounce pass off the pick and roll. Kendrick Perkins rotated to challenge the shot, but it was too late -- Griffin was already in his flight pattern, and Perkins' attempts to do something (block the shot, impede his progress, foul him -- SOMETHING) just seemed to propel Griffin higher and higher. At the height of his jump, Griffin's chin was at rim level. He threw the dunk down, Ralph Lawler had an aneurysm, the roof came off of STAPLES Center, Twitter exploded, and the game was over -- or maybe it was just no longer relevant.
As it happens, other things happened in this game. Really interesting things. In fact, it would be tough to top this game for sheer entertainment value (unless perhaps you happen to be a Thunder fan).
The Thunder scored the first four points, but once the Clippers took the lead at 8-7 they never trailed again. L.A. built up a 16-point lead, and it looked like they might run away and hide. But an 11-2 OKC run narrowed the lead back down to six late in the first half and it seemed like it would be a game again.
Over the course of the next 50 seconds, the Clippers scored 12 straight points on four consecutive three-pointers as the Thunder turned the ball over twice and missed a three pointer. The 12-0 run closed the first half and rebuilt the Clippers lead to 18. Oklahoma City was never closer than 11 the rest of the night.
After making 14 of 30 three-pointers in their win in Denver, the Clippers finished 13 for 25 from deep in this game. They were 10 for 14 in the first half alone to build the big lead. As tough as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are to defend, when the Clippers are making three-pointers, the team is essentially unstoppable, as the Thunder discovered.
Because here's the thing: on offense, Oklahoma City was pretty great. Things were really clicking for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on Monday night. Durant had 36 points on 23 shots to go along with 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Westbrook scored 31 points and had five steals. The Thunder count on those two to carry the scoring load, and they responded big time with 67. Unfortunately, no one else on the Thunder did much. Daequan Cook made four three-pointers in the fourth quarter to become the only other Thunder player in double figures. No one else on the team made more than two field goals. No one on the team beyond the big two made more than one field goal before the fourth.
The Clippers countered the Durant/Westbrook show with balanced scoring. Six Clippers scored in double figures, led by Paul with 26: he also had 14 assists. Griffin and Caron Butler contributed 22 each. Still, it's not particularly unusual or even off-script for Durant and Westbrook to score most of OKC's points. The Thunder will win most games where those two score 67 and the team scores 100. But the hot three-point shooting in the first half, the aerial show in the second half, and Chris Paul down the stretch meant that there was no way the Clippers were losing this one.
The Thunder made one last push in the final quarter. Cook made some threes, they got some stops, and they managed to trim the lead to 11 at 101-90 with just under four minutes to play. Earlier incarnations of Clipper teams might have gotten very nervous at that point -- but this team has Chris Paul. Paul scored eight straight Clipper points on four straight possessions to ice the game. He did it in a variety of ways -- two jump shots, a floater, a layup. He did it while milking the shot clock. He did it with ease. Ballgame.
With the win, the Clippers improve to 12-6 on the season, 10-2 at home, while the Thunder fall to 16-4, which is still the best record in the NBA.