As was highlighted in the game preview, there was an abundance of seeding significance riding on the outcome of Sunday’s slate of games, including the Clippers’ contest against the Thunder. As scores around the league began to cultivate, one thing started to become clear. A Clippers’ win would draw Portland in the first round, and a Clippers’ loss would draw Dallas. If Ty Lue’s strategy down the stretch was any indication, the Clippers had no interest in winning this game.
Daniel Oturu, a player who had taken just 31 total FGA all season long, took a team-high 21 shots in the Clippers’ 117-112 loss to the Thunder. While Oturu’s 37 minutes and 21 FGA are indicative of a team intent on losing, the box score does not even begin to tell the story.
It is important to remember that OKC desperately needed a loss in their season finale. With lottery odds on the line, a win would decrease the Thunder’s chances at snagging a top pick. While fielding a bad roster to begin with, the Thunder’s game plan did not represent one that was crafted for victory; however, the Clippers outdid them.
With the game in the balance entering the 4th quarter, the Clippers began feeding Oturu in the post like he was prime Tim Duncan. The big man had 10 of his 21 FGA in the 4th quarter, converting on just 2 of them. Oturu was a -7 in the 4th quarter alone, a period that he played all 12 minutes of. If the Clippers’ shot distribution in the final frame was not evidence enough of an intentional tank, their final play call should be. Down by three, with under a minute to play, the Clippers opted for a contested two-point jumper from Oturu. It missed, and the Clippers secured the loss.
It was a frustrating game for the group of people who were hoping for a Clippers vs. Blazers first round showdown, but there were a few positive takeaways from a game that was otherwise unserious.
Terance Mann, who played just 23 minutes because he was hurting the tank, continued to make a case for playoff minutes. T-Mann had 19 points on 7/8 shooting, and showed off his impressive burst to the basket. In a series against Luka, it is not unreasonable to imagine foul trouble becoming an issue for a player like Patrick Beverley. If this becomes the case, T-Mann has proven his reliability every chance he has gotten this season.
Speaking of Patrick Beverley, he too got an opportunity to play limited minutes in this matchup, and looked the best he has since returning from injury. His quickness on both offense and defense was an encouraging sign, especially with the tough task that lies ahead in Luka Doncic. The Clippers will need a healthy and conditioned Pat Bev if they want to make it out of the Western Conference.
After successfully out-tanking the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers have now earned themselves a date with Luka and the Mavs in round one. While seemingly the more unfavorable matchup between Portland and Dallas, the Clippers were likely shooting for the opposite end of the Lakers’ expected bracket, delaying a possible battle of LA until the WCF. If this was indeed their goal, they succeeded. Here’s to hoping it pays off.