Despite being one of a few favorites to win the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t quite been themselves so far this postseason. It took seven games (and a Zach Randolph suspension) to take down the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Even with that scare, Oklahoma City promptly went out and was routed by the Los Angeles Clippers at home in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Forget reaching the NBA Finals – making the Western Conference Finals seemed like it could be difficult.
The Thunder, though, have done a 180 since that debacle against the Clips earlier this week. After winning Game 2 at home, Oklahoma City went into Los Angeles on Friday night and grabbed a win in the pivotal Game 3, again seizing home court advantage in the series.
Having the Most Valuable Player, Kevin Durant, surely doesn’t hurt. However, the biggest reason the Thunder may be leading the series is because of their work on the boards.
In Friday’s Game 3, Oklahoma City won the rebounding battle, 44-33. The advantage was even more lopsided in Game 2 when the Thunder held a 52-36 advantage. In that game, Kevin Durant and, of all people, diminutive 6-foot-3 point guard Russell Westbrook, both reached double figures in rebounds. Even in the defeat in Game 1, Oklahoma City was dominant on the boards, grabbing 47 of them to the Clippers’ 31.
All told, the Thunder is averaging 14.3 more rebounds than their counterpart each game – something virtually unheard of in the NBA.
The rebounding edge has been even more critical when you consider what the offenses have done so far in this series. Each team has scored over 100 points in all three games thus far and with defensive stops at a premium, the Thunder have put themselves in good position to win games with the significant edge on the glass.
Los Angeles’ problem isn’t really one that can be fixed, either. While effort is a sizable part of rebounding, the Clippers are blatantly overmatched in the frontcourt. Save for DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, there’s not much help to be found on the roster. Starting forward Matt Barnes has a little size at 6-foot-7, but is largely a perimeter player. Glen Davis is the team’s best rebounder off the bench, but he’s seen his minutes shrink drastically in the postseason and hasn’t done much to help so far. In addition, with no true backup center since Ryan Hollins is limited to only a few minutes a game, L.A. is often handicapped by playing with three forwards or guards on the floor at any given time.
The Clippers’ best chance to win the series is to duplicate their Game 1 effort where they were able to pull out a win despite being outmuscled on the glass. One thing they did well (and have continued to do well, actually) is force turnovers, recording a series-high 17 of them against the Thunder in that victory, while taking care of the ball. More importantly, they just shot extremely well, making nearly 55 percent of their attempts. The Clippers also showcased their ability to connect from long-range, making 15 three-pointers. If Los Angeles is going to win in this series, they need to make the most of their possessions and simply make shots to help account for the deficiency on the boards.
From what we’ve seen from Oklahoma City, though, that won’t be easy.