Either the Clippers are really lucky, or they've figured out how to do something no other team in the league has. Guard Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City's superduo average a combined 52.1 points per game (best in the league) and have each scored in double-figures in 58 straight games, which tied them with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for the second longest streak in the last 20 years and had them two short of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's all-time mark.
With Westbrook having nine and Durant 10 at the end of the first quarter, it appeared that strak would carry on another night. Except Westbrook didn't score another point after the first and Durant, who had 19 at the half, hit just one of his final eight shots and finished with 24. The Thunder scored only 14 points in the third quarter, and 11 in the fourth. That's 25 total second half points. It may sound like an easy gameplan, but the Clippers have discovered in the last week that if you take away Durant and Westbrook, you take away the Thunder's offense.
OKC's duo went a combined 11-of-34 Monday. They went 10-of-35 in the last meeting. That's just 21-of-69 the past two games, both Clipper wins. Is that a sustainable plan? Can you really expect to hold Durant and Westbrook under water like that four times in a seven-game series? Not so sure about that. But for whatever reason -- luck or defensive genius -- the Clippers have done it two straight times.
And those two wins are part of an incredibly impressive run where the Clips have ripped off 12 of 14 pushing them into the Pacific Division conversation. They have always had the lobs and the highlights and the stars. Plus, with Chris Paul as the head of the snake, they're an extremely dangerous team. I promise you there isn't anyone in the league that's not afraid of CP3 during a one possession game in the fourth quarter.
But it's that defense that's changed them. It's the defense that's taken them from a team dissolving in front of us to a group that's back into the contender conversation. During this run of 12 out of 14, the Clippers have held their opponents under 100 points in 11 of those wins. In fact, they've held their opponents under 100 in 12 of those 14 games period.
There was a playoff-type intensity to Monday's game with OKC and the Clippers were the ones that did the swinging. The Thunder roared out with a strong first half and appeared to be ready to remedy the issues that cropped up in the last meeting, but it was the Clippers that came out of the locker room for the second half as the aggressors. OKC didn't have an answer for the Clippers dialing up the pressure. The Thunder missed shots -- some very good looks -- uncharacteristically clanged 11 free throws, went 5-of-22 from 3 and just wilted as the Clippers kicked out of wide open 3s.
I hate the saying "That's a team you don't want to play," but with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and a strong defense, who would honestly feel good about beating that team four times in a series? A lot of what the Clippers rely upon is strong secondary support from guys like Nick Young, Randy Foye and DeAndre Jordan, but if that happens, this is a team that can compete with anyone. It's not a fluke the Clippers dismantled the Thunder Monday. It's not an accident that they've beaten OKC two straight times and 3-1 for the season. There's a real danger in this Clipper team. It's just a matter of if all of that can manifest again in the postseason.
Because that's the thing, you can actually talk about the postseason now for the Clippers. They clinched a playoff berth Monday. That's how far the Clippers have come. A playoff spot is now a footnote.