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Laker-Free Thriller At Staples

A Daily Babble Production

When I made the executive decision to devote a Friday night to watching the Thunder visit the Clippers (yes, this actually happened), it was for the purpose of observing Clippers rookie center DeAndre Jordan.  There is a Babble coming on the super-freak athlete, maybe in the next couple of days, perhaps sometime over the next few weeks.  But a funny thing happened while I was busy monitoring a guy who was a virtual non-factor and played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble: A basketball game broke out between the Western Conference's two worst teams.  And a fine one it was.

Despite the fact that the Thunder and Clippers are the league's two worst-ranked teams in offensive efficiency, they sure do have a few players between them who can fill it up.  When the final horn sounded in a 107-104 Clips win at Staples last night, two of those individuals had posted the highest scoring figures of their young careers.  A third had gone for the second best scoring night of his pro tenure.

Throughout a seesaw game, the hosts had no answer for Kevin Durant.  The second pick spent the evening attacking the rim with heightened confidence.  He cruised past Clipper defenders into the paint, drawing foul after foul from the late-arriving help.  By the time it was over, he had gone to the foul line 26 times and knocked down 24 of those attempts.  When the Clippers stretched their lead to eight with less than two and a half minutes to play, Durant went on his own 7-2 run to cut the lead back to three.  That included an absurd and-one that Durant managed to finish from the left side of the basket.  When Steve Novak stretched the lead to six with a three, Durant answered right back with a triple of his own. 

Durant did everything short of bring the Thunder all the way back after they began to fall apart in the fourth quarter.  He missed the three-pointer that would have tied the game in the final seconds, but he did just about everything else.  The face of the franchise finished with 46 points and 15 boards.  That he only shot 10-for-23 from the field can be pardoned thanks to the home he made at the charity stripe.  Durant put up 16 of those 46 points in the fourth quarter.

For most of the early part of this game, it was Al Thornton who played the biggest role in preventing Durant's team from pulling away to stay.  The second-year forward showed off his impressive offensive arsenal.  He got to the basket and dunked.  He pulled up for mid-range jumpers and used a pretty turn-around move in the lane.  Thornton stepped outside the arc and canned a couple of threes as well.  His 34-point effort (13-of-28 shooting) marked a season high, and it set the table for the Clippers to be right there in the midst of the third quarter when another member of the home team heated up to duel with Durant.

That would be the neophyte with the baby face, Eric Gordon.  The rookie from Indiana can and did stroke it.  He blitzed the Thunder's guards from the outside, bottoming on five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.  When pressured on the outside, he ball-faked and made a dribble move to get himself a mid-range shot.  No problem.  Gordon also did something we haven't seen quite as much from him yet in his debut season, which was go to the basket.  When the Oklahoma City guards did figure out that they couldn't leave Gordon for a jumper, he made a beeline for the rim, drawing fouls on several drives.  Gordon finished the game 12-of-19 from the field and 12-of-14 from the line.

The rook did everything he could to match Durant point-for-point in that frantic fourth quarter.  Gordon put up 14 of his 41 in the final period, routinely answering Thunder baskets to stretch the lead for the home team.  He had play-by-play man Ralph Lawler exclaiming his signature "Bingo!" call all night, and it was a pleasure to watch him work.

The season may already be lost for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers.  But one wouldn't have known it from watching them duke it out Friday night.  The announcers got excited, the crowd stayed involved, and the players - especially a certain trio - gave all observers a heckuva show.  Thanks for making the Friday night investment worth it, fellas.

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