A positive response was vitally important for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Just two days after a gut-wrenching loss to New Orleans, the Thunder faced a wounded, but still dangerous, Los Angeles Clippers team and needed a win.
The Thunder did just that, bouncing back from Friday's loss with a dominating, 131-108 win over the Clippers.
It was the fourth loss in a row for the Clippers, which found themselves without Blake Griffin before the game, thanks to a staph infection in his elbow. The issue will require surgery and Griffin could miss up to four weeks. The Clippers were also without J.J. Redick and Glen Davis left the game in the second quarter with back spasms.
But no amount of injuries can negate what the Thunder did to Los Angeles at The Peake. Thanks to the hot shooting of Kevin Durant, the Thunder weathered some early struggles and took control of the game in the second quarter and then proceeded to blow out the Clippers in the second half.
With Griffin out, Spencer Hawes started for the Clippers and poured in nine points in the first quarter, helping Los Angeles grab a 26-22 lead. The Thunder responded with a 12-0 run over the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter to seize control. Once OKC had control, it wasn't long before the game became a rout.
It wasn't all perfect for OKC on Sunday. Steven Adams suffered a right hand injury late in the second quarter and didn't play in the second half. After immediately running off the court when the injury occurred, Adams returned and shot his two free throws left-handed (he made the second one) and then left the game for good to a standing ovation.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game he didn't have any further information on the injury. It didn't look good and it's possible Adams misses some time. In a season where little has gone the Thunder's way, this would be another disappointing blow.
The Thunder's loss on Friday was due to a lack of support from the role players. Sure, Russell Westbrook scored 48 points, but the bench scored just 11, offering very little in terms of offensive production.
That led to a loss Friday, but it was the reason for a blowout win on Sunday. Reggie Jackson was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points, while Dion Waiters had 16 points. The bench finished the game with 62 points and produced a new fan favorite in the process.
With Kendrick Perkins suspended for making head-to-head contact with Tyreke Evans on Friday, Mitch McGary saw significant minutes for the first time this season. It was just McGary's third game of the season, but the rookie from Michigan put on a show. In the first half alone, he scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his eight minutes of action, leaving the court with 5:53 left in the second quarter to a standing ovation.
McGary scored in a variety of ways—jumpshots, layups and putbacks—and showcased the kind of talent the Thunder saw to justify taking him with the No. 21 pick in this past summer's draft. He finished with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Speaking of rebounds, the absence of Griffin was most obvious on the glass, where the Thunder pounded the Clippers, 54-29.
The Thunder's stars still got theirs, as Durant finished with 29 points on an efficient 10-of-15 shooting performance. Westbrook had 19 points and 11 rebounds, but was just 6-of-19 from the field and didn't hit his first shot until the 2:43 mark of the second quarter. Even though Westbrook and Serge Ibaka (13 points on 3-of-11 shooting) struggling would normally signal a major problem for the Thunder, it was no such thing on Sunday.
Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 21 points, while Chris Paul had 18 and 13 assists. Hawes finished the game with 17 points and Matt Barnes had 15 points.
The turning of the calendar to February has been a great thing for the Thunder. OKC is 3-1 heading into games at Denver and against Memphis at home this week, and has looked more and more like the Thunder team of years past.
Oklahoma City's playoff plight has often overshadowed individual performances and games this season, but on Sunday, not even being three games out of the playoffs could minimize the Thunder's dominance and the emergence of yet another young talent on the OKC bench.