The Los Angeles Clippers are in a scoring slump. Owners of a top-five offensive efficiency rating all season, the Clippers had gone seven consecutive games without scoring 100 points entering Wednesday night. L.A. had reached the century mark in half of their first 38 games prior to their current malaise.
When you're having trouble scoring, the last thing that you want to happen is to have your two best players have an off night. But that's exactly what happened to the Clippers, as the Oklahoma City Thunder held Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in check and cruised to a 114-91 win. Paul made just 3-of-12 shots for 13 points while Griffin was 3-for-11 for seven points in his hometown, the first time this season he has failed to score at least 10. With Griffin and Paul misfiring, the Clippers shot just 37 percent from the field. Were it not for Randy Foye, who scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including five three pointers, the game would have been much uglier than it was.
Meanwhile, the vaunted Thunder offense was firing on all cylinders. Led by Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points on 10-of-18 shooting while making all 11 of his free throws, Oklahoma shot 54 percent from the field and 95 percent from the line. Russell Westbrook had 19 and Serge Ibaka 15. They were able to get pretty much any shot they wanted against a listless Clippers defense, scoring 66 first half points to take a 16 point lead and coasting in the second half.
But OKC's dominance in this game went beyond better shooting. The Clippers are the third-best rebounding team in the league by differential -- but the Thunder outrebounded L.A,. 49-31, easily the worst rebounding deficit for the Clippers this season. The Thunder grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, compared to 21 defensive rebounds for the Clippers -- in other words, even on the rare occasions when Oklahoma City missed, they still had a 40 percent chance of getting another crack at it.
You could write this off as a schedule loss for L.A. -- it was their eighth game in 11 days, and the middle game of a road back-to-back-to-back, playing against the best team in the Western Conference. They were not likely to win this game regardless, a fact that was fairly obvious when the schedule was released back in December. Heck, head coach Vinny Del Negro even gave starting small forward Caron Butler the night off. But taken in the context of the team's recent struggles, it did not bode well. Poor shooting happens -- getting demolished on the boards while looking completely disinterested on defense is indicative of a bigger problem.
Could that problem be the coach? Never one to shy away from controversy, noted Sports Guy and Clippers season ticket holder Bill Simmons tweeted this just after the game:
Heard today that Vinny Del Negro is on super-thin, could-go-any-day ice. A blowout loss in OKC tonight won't exactly help.
After a promising start to Chris Paul's inaugural season, the Clippers have won just seven of their last 18 games. A coaching change in the final third of the season in the thick of a playoff race would be unusual, but not unheard of.
With the win the Thunder improve their Western Conference leading record to 35-12. The Thunder had been in a mini-slump of their own recently, losing half of their previous 10 games, so the easy win was sorely needed to build some momentum. The Clippers dropped to 26-20 and currently find themselves in a virtual three way tie with Dallas and Memphis for the fourth spot in the West.