You can read all about this series anywhere you stumble on the NBA internet. The Oklahoma City Thunder survived the gridlock that the Memphis Grizzlies create with their swarming defense. The Los Angeles Clippers withstood the undeniable Golden State Warriors by feeding DeAndre Jordan and unleashing their not-so-secret weapons: the smartest point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul, and their reserve assassin, Jamal Crawford.
Kevin Durant is no longer “Mr. Unreliable,” though its fairer to say he never was. It is worth considering how the personalities of star players often dictate how they are viewed.
OKC: Adjectives and Questions
Which adjectives are more appropriate for Kevin Durant? Deferential. Selfless. Hard-working. Relaxed. Deliberate. These all work. Oh yeah, and two more: dominant and unstoppable (against anyone not named Tony Allen).
Question: Can Durant pick up where he left off in Game 7 against Memphis and find his groove?
Russell Westbrook’s adjectives? Dynamic. Electric. Enigmatic. Flamboyant. Exhilarating. Mercurial. Chaotic. Oh yeah, and two more: ball-dominant and stubborn. With adjectives likes these, its no wonder people can’t stop writing about him.
Question: Can Westbrook continue to make smart decisions with the ball, and step in from the three-point arc (8 of 40 from deep in Games 1-6) when the shot-clock winds down? Westbrook’s amazing Game 7 performance (27 pts on 16 shots, 16 ast, 10 rebounds) came against a less-than-healthy Mike Conley. But now he gets a less-than-healthy Chris Paul.
Ibaka is 7’4″ wide when he fully extends. Only DeAndre Jordan and his 7’6″ wingspan are comparable to Ibaka. With that great length, Blake Griffin will go to great lengths to use his body in shielding Ibaka from the ball, and attempting to get Ibaka in foul trouble. Ibaka: long, menacing, vicious (remember the play that broke LeBron’s nose?), imposing.
Question: Can Ibaka’s mid-range jump shot be as effective in this series as it was for most of the regular season? Will the Clippers avoid Ibaka entirely and keep the ball swinging around the perimeter and at the elbow? In 2 of OKC’s 3 playoff losses, Ibaka went without a block. In Games 1, 4 and 6 (all wins) he averaged 4.4 blocks.
Scott Brooks needs to stick to his rotations, especially the minutes he reserves for Reggie Jackson. Jackson was a savior for the Thunder in Game 4. On the brink and in danger of going down 3-1 in the series, Jackson came through with 32 points and 9 rebounds on 11 of 16 shooting. Jackson’s clutch play enabled the Thunder to survive. After a solid Game 1 (9 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast) in which he played 24 minutes, Jackson never got into a rhythm in limited action in Games 2 and 3. Against Memphis, Jackson averaged over 18 ppg in wins, and 4 ppg in losses. Doesn’t get more obvious than that.
Question: Which Jackson will we see against the Clippers? The minutes should be guaranteed.
Clippers: Adjectives and Questions
CP3’s adjectives: steady, cerebral, clutch, determined, tenacious, clever
Chris Paul is too memorable a player not to have an opportunity to lead a team on a deep playoff run. Here’s hoping this is the year that CP3 moves on to the Conference Finals, and shows everyone just how integral and unique a player he is. As ridiculous as it may sound, a point guard who has battled numerous knee and now hamstring injuries, the 28 year-old Paul may not have more than a few more chances to do this. He’ll need to bottle up Westbrook to get it done.
Question: How is the hamstring? It looked good in Game 7’s second-half against Golden State (15 pts, 8 assists in the 2nd half). Without the production and stability of CP3, both offensively and defensively, the Clippers will get annihilated.
Blake’s adjectives: explosive, unpredictable, contagious, dramatic, volcanic
Is Blake Griffin a human explosion? Is he a volcano? His energy impacts a game and will likely swing this series. Like his opponent Russell Westbrook, Griffin can take his team to extreme heights, with his high-flying dunks and his underrated passing skills. During Paul’s absence in the regular season, Griffin showed his passing skills, averaging just under 5 assists per game over the last 20 games of the season. And his assertiveness can be used against him, as it was in Game 1, where he played only 19 minutes due to foul trouble.
Question: Will OKC find ways to get Griffin in foul trouble and thus limit his potential impact?
Jordan’s gargantuan numbers against Golden State tilted the series in the Clippers’ favor. The shot-blocking (4 per game in the GS series) is one thing. Four offensive rebounds per game is another thing. In the four wins, Jordan even scored 15 points per game, mostly on lobs from Paul and Griffin. The undersized Warriors had little defense for DeAndre. The Thunder have Steven Adams, whose face is apparently made of steel (no bruise after the Randolph punch, and no blood after the awkward face-foul on Courtney Lee.) DeAndre must avoid foul trouble and be the behemoth that we all know he can be.
Question: Can Jordan stay on the court for 35-plus minutes and avoid the whistles?
Crawford found the rhythm in Game 3 of the Warriors series and didn’t look back. After two 9-point outings in the first two games, Jamal averaged just under 20 ppg in the final five games on the series, on only 13.4 shots per game. With 35-foot range, Jamal Crawford doesn’t stretch the defense, he snaps it like an old rubber band.
Question: Will Sefolosha’s lock-down perimeter defense mitigate Jamal’s scoring binge abilities?
If Derek Fisher gets significant minutes when J.J. Redick is on the court, the Clippers absolutely must take advantage. Though Fisher gets the unending respect of every official, he is 63 years-0ld and cannot defend without grabbing and holding.
Question: Will Redick hit more than two long-distance jumpers in crunch time during this series? And can he defend adequately enough to stay on the court?
Darko Index Predicts: Clippers in 7.
Game 1: Clippers @ Thunder, Monday, May 5, 930pm EST, TNT
Game 2: Clippers @ Thunder, Wednesday, May 7, 930pm EST, TNT
Game 3: Thunder @ Clippers, Friday, May 9, 1030pm EST, ESPN
Game 4: Thunder @ Clippers, Sunday, May 11, 330pm EST, ABC