By Michael Kinney
Transcript Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — The talk coming into the Western Conference semifinals was which team had the advantage at point guard. Even though Los Angles’ Chris Paul is the future hall of famer, most saw Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook as the odds on favorite to dominate the matchup.
That is not a challenge Paul can back down from. He poured in 32 points to lead the Clippers past the Thunder 122-105 Monday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series.
“We know this is a tough environment, a great team, the MVP Kevin Durant, we just wanted to come out and be ready,” Paul said. “I got here way before the game with our assistant coach and got up a ton of shots and it just felt good tonight. I just tried to be the aggressor.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks not only has to find an answer to Paul but also must figure out where his team’s defensive mindset went.
“We have to do a better job all the way around,” Brooks said. “We will get better. That’s not who we are. We have to play better defense against this team. We didn’t make them feel us.”
Paul shot 12 for 14 from the field and set a career high, making eight of nine from 3-point range. He also picked up 10 assists in only 28 minutes of work.
“He hit eight threes,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “He wasn’t doing nothing crazy. He hit eight threes. It’s not Chris Paul versus the Thunder, it’s the Clippers versus the Thunder.”
Forward Blake Griffin added 23 points and five rebounds. Guard Jamal Crawford came off the bench to post 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
Guard Russell Westbrook paced the Thunder with 29 points on 9-for-14 shooting. He also had four assists and six turnovers. Forward Kevin Durant knocked in 25 points. Forward Serge Ibaka added 12 points and six rebounds.
Paul came out on fire for the Clippers. With his jumpers falling from all over the court, he lit up the Thunder for 17 first-quarter points. That included going 5 fo 5 from behind the arc as L.A. led 39-25.
“They score (average) 42 points in the paint, they score 21 points from the free throw line, they score 20 points from the tough two area and 25 points from the three,” Brooks said. “So you have to do them all. In order to beat this team, you have to stop all those areas. If you don’t, you’re going to have trouble beating them.”
While the Clippers were getting everything in the flow of the offense and extra passing, the Thunder were mired trying to play one-on-one basketball. Durant and Westbrook got caught trying to take their men off the dribble.
The only reason the Clippers’ lead didn’t grow larger than the 24-point margin they established late in the second half was the hustle Westbrook showed.
Yet, the Clippers still led 69-52 at halftime.
“I don’t think I’ve seen him this aggressive,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We needed a tone setter. Turning it around that quickly, I think he felt he needed to set the tone.”
Nothing the Thunder tried on defense worked in the second half. Instead of settling for jump shots, Paul was able to drive to the rim for uncontested layups. The Clippers pushed their lead to 27 points in the third quarter and to 29 points in the fourth.
“They got loose on some stuff and made some shots,” Durant said. “But we do have to get more physical a little bit more. We just have to get better, but we’re confident.”
By Michael Kinney
Travelers knocked out of Connie Mack Tournament
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Travelers drop 6-1 decision
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Majors move into regional semifinals
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Traveler Majors take regional opener
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Majors finish second in festival
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