Despite a 122-105 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night in Game 1 of the NBA's Western Conference semifinals, Oklahoma City Thunder fans have reason to celebrate. Kevin Durant has been named the league's Most Valuable Player.
The 6-foot-9 forward won his fourth scoring title in five years by averaging 32 points per game. His run of 41 consecutive games with at least 25 points was the third-longest streak in NBA history. Durant finished second to Miami's LeBron James the previous two years.
Monday night Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers showed what they can do when their minds are on basketball.
Paul made a career-high eight 3-pointers and scored 32 points to help the Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-105 Monday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal.
The Clippers acknowledged that the racial comments by owner Donald Sterling that got him permanently banned from the league were a distraction during their first-round series against Golden State. Once they put the initial shock behind them, they beat the Warriors and carried their momentum into Game 1 against the Thunder. Los Angeles shot 55 percent from the field and made 15 of 29 3-point attempts.
Paul, who had never made more than five 3-pointers in a game, also had 10 assists.
"When somebody's got it going like that, you just try to stay out of the way as much as possible, but also help keep that fire going," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said.
Though Paul is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, he doesn't usually shoot them so often. Once he started hitting them, he became increasingly aggressive. He made 8 of 9 for the night.
"I came over here early and got in a lot of shots, so I think that had a lot to do with it, too," Paul said.
Oklahoma City didn't anticipate Paul taking on the scoring load for Los Angeles, but he took advantage of good screens and knocked down the shots. The Thunder felt they defended him relatively well.
"I thought on a lot of those 3s, especially early in the game, we had a hand in his face and a hand in his shots," Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. "So we did a decent job, but those shots went in and that boosted their whole team."
Griffin scored 23 points, Jamal Crawford had 17 and J.J. Redick added 12 for the Clippers.
Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Kevin Durant had 25 and Serge Ibaka added 12 for the Thunder, who suffered their worst home loss since moving to Oklahoma City.
"We have to get more physical," Durant said. "I'm not talking about hard fouls, I'm talking about jamming the lane, fighting through screens and not letting guys run free. We just have to be more physical."
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
"We just understand that we don't go into Game 2 with a 17-point lead," Paul said. "You know, you've just got to come back and be hungry and not be satisfied with one."
Both teams were coming off Game 7 wins in the first round on Saturday night, but only the Thunder looked weary. Oklahoma City opened by taking a 16-10 lead, but the Clippers responded with a 24-6 run. Paul hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter, matching his career high for 3s in a playoff game in the first 12 minutes. The Clippers shot 67 percent in the first quarter to take a 39-25 lead.
Los Angeles extended its lead to 24 points in the second quarter and took a 69-52 halftime lead with Paul getting 22 points and six assists.
Durant and Westbrook scored 16 points each in the first half, but theThunder committed 11 turnovers before halftime.
A quick 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper by Paul pushed the Clippers' lead to 78-56 in the opening minutes of the third quarter. The Clippers reached 100 points with just over a minute left in the period and led 104-78 heading into the fourth quarter.
The score that matters to the Thunder is 1-0. They were behind 2-1 and 3-2 against Memphis in the first round and rallied to win the series.
"You know, we've been there before," Sefolosha said. "You know, it's never easy, so at the same time it's the first to four wins, and we're down one. So it's not the end of the world, we've just got to go back and see what we can do for the next game."
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