The first seven minutes were fine. The Oklahoma City Thunder essentially traded baskets with the Los Angeles Clippers, and it was 18-18 after a Serge Ibaka dunk. The series started like it was supposed to; it was fast-paced, high-scoring and even. Then everything, from the Thunder perspective, went to hell.
Chris Paul started a 23-7 run with a three-pointer, the second of his eight straight makes from behind the arc. Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick hit jumpers, too. The game felt terribly one-sided by the end of the first quarter, a period in which Los Angeles shot 16-for-24 from the field. In the second, Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 24 points. The Thunder never made much of a comeback, and gave up home-court advantage in a 122-105 Game 1 loss on Monday.
“It's tough to swallow, especially on your home floor, in the playoffs,” Kevin Durant said from the podium after the game.
Paul “set the tone,” in head coach Doc Rivers' words, but this was more than just a dominant scoring performance. The Thunder allowed him to score 32 points and shoot 12-for-14 from the field, 8-for-9 from behind the arc, but it was not as if they were daring Paul to beat them.
The best point guard in the land also had 10 assists, and the Clippers shot 55 percent from the field overall. Paul brilliantly controlled the game, picking and choosing his spots to call his own number. It just so happened he did so much more than usual.
Oklahoma City's defense sputtered near the end of the regular season, but appeared to rejuvenate itself heading into the playoffs. While the Thunder were good enough in the first round to get past the plodding Memphis Grizzlies in seven games, Los Angeles is a different beast.
“It's definitely a different series, different team, different style of play,” Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks told reporters. “We have to flip the page quickly.”
The Clippers aren't just faster than the Grizzlies; they are more dangerous. They have better shooting, better spacing and more options. The troubling thing is that they looked to have the advantage in all of those areas over the Thunder, too.
Oklahoma City's defense was the main issue in the series opener, but Brooks will also need to find a way to pull production out of more of his players. Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 54 points, Serge Ibaka had 12 and no one else made any sort of offensive impact.
Caron Butler, who shot 34 percent against Memphis, went 1-for-7 from the field. Reggie Jackson, who played well in the Thunder's last three wins, shot 1-for-8. At the podium, Durant and Westbrook continually lamented the Clippers hitting tough shots, but they also need their teammates to convert the looks they are given. You could argue that Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb leaping around the court in garbage time gave Oklahoma City its best bench minutes.
The positive for the Thunder is they'll get a chance to adjust and make up for this on Wednesday. No one expects this to be a short series, and they've already fought back from a deficit in these playoffs. They can't just expect they'll be fine if Paul cools off, though. They're going to have to get better.