Serge Ibaka was out with a calf injury and Kendrick Perkins had played only eight minutes because of foul trouble.
Going up against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan without your two best post defenders is not a recipe for success. Unless, of course, you have Nick Collison and Steven Adams.
The Smash Brothers stepped up in a big way on Thursday night, and there's no way the Thunder close out the Clippers without the effort the pair put forth in the Thunder's 104-98 win.
Perkins checked out with 9:51 remaining in the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. Ibaka followed two and a half minutes later with a left calf injury. From that point, Adams and Collison stayed on the court the rest of the game until Derek Fisher subbed out Collison with 2:27 remaining in the game.
Together, they were fantasticon both ends of the court. Collison even found Adams with a sweet bounce pass for a dunk in the fourth quarter as the Thunder began to put the Clippers away.
Collison's play was especially encouraging for the Thunder. Coming into Thursday night, Collison had played just 37 minutes in the previous five games, but played 17 in Game 6, all in the second half. Collison only scored four points, and his only field goal was a 3-pointer that tied the game at 72 as the third quarter ended.
"I sat the whole first half, my minutes have been up and down, but I was just trying to stay ready, trust I know what to do when I get in there," Collison said after the game. "When I got in there, I felt a high level of focus and I just wanted to be in tune with every play. A couple things went right for me early that really helped my confidence and we just went from there."
Instead, it was Collison's defense and passing that helped the Thunder overcome an eight-point halftime deficit and turn it into an 11-point lead by the time he left the game. Collison does a great job of helping the Thunder spread the floor and actually move the ball. His backdoor passes are second-to-none and OKC just looks like it has some clue of what it's doing on offense when he is on the floor.
Meanwhile, Steven Adams just continues to grow at an exponential rate, beginning late in the Memphis series and culminating Thursday night. Adams played 40 minutes in Game 6. In a closeout game. On the road. As a rookie. Just two weeks ago, Adams couldn't get off the bench for more than five minutes at a time.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, notorious for not playing young players in big situations, has obviously grown to trust Adams and why wouldn't he? Adams not only played a lot, but he played well. He played excellent defense on both Jordan and Griffin, screened hard on offense and contributed more from a points standpoint than Perkins ever could. Adams finished Thursday's game with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds and his 40 minutes were second only to Kevin Durant's 44.
We won't see the Thunder start the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs with Adams and Collison in the starting lineup and Ibaka and Perkins on the bench. While that would cause many Perk-haters to rejoice, it wouldn't be a wise decision by Brooks.
However, the performances from the pair of big guys should give the Thunder a lot of confidence going into the series with the Spurs. Collison will be used more anyway against San Antonio, since their big men aren't as physically imposing as the Clippers'.
It's rare the Thunder look to someone other than Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook for a lift, but Thursday night, it was Adams and Collison providing the Thunder with the energy it needed to finish off the Clippers.