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article imageOp-Ed: Off-the-court distractions aside, Clips-Thunder a great matchup

By Nate Smith     May 5, 2014 in Sports
Oklahoma City - Taking center... will be a handful of the most exciting players in the league.
Indeed, both teams have dealt with what may be defined as “off-the-court” distractions en route to dispatching their first-round opponents.
A playoff basketball game tips off at 8:30 p.m. local time Monday in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The contest marks Game 1 of a best-of-seven second-round western conference playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, franchises of the National Basketball Association.
Taking center stage in tonight’s tussle of NBA titans will be a handful of the most exciting players in the league.
Any conversation about the playoff series that doesn’t begin and end with the basketball greatness of Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook is a slight against this fantastic playoff matchup.
Indeed, both teams have dealt with what may be defined as “off-the-court” distractions en route to dispatching their first-round opponents.
The Clippers, of course, continue to play amidst the fallout of some truly deplorable remarks made by the owner of their team.
And, to an obviously far lesser degree, the Thunder squad was left fielding questions about the “reliability” of its own star player following a not-so-well-thought-out newspaper headline.
That’s the beauty of big-time playoff basketball, though. As soon as the ball tips, the only thing that’ll matter is whether Griffin can continue to dominate near the rim like he has in each of the Clips’ previous matchups with the Thunder.
Griffin recorded a career high four blocks in an April 16 regular season game against Oklahoma City. He scored a career-high 35 points in Game 2 against Golden State, and has netted 20 or more points in 10 of his previous 24 playoff starts.
Griffin this year became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to average 24+ points, 9+ rebounds and 3+ assists for a season, and his 176 dunks rank him fourth in the NBA, according to folks tasked with tracking that kind of stuff.
The possibilities are endless tonight as he returns to play in front of a hometown crowd.
The Oklahoma City-native was one of the highest recruits ever to hail from Oklahoma, where also attended two years at OU and starred on the basketball team.
And Griffin may not even be the most important player on the floor to his team.
It’s being widely reported that Kevin Durant will be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, with a pregame ceremony perhaps set ahead of Game 2. Durant scored 40 or more points 14 times, and logged at least 25 in 41 consecutive games during the regular season.
On the heels of a headline that tagged him, “Mr. Unreliable,” Durant scored 36 and 33 points, respectively, as the Thunder overcome a 3-2 series deficit to advance in round one.
Incredibly, Durant’s performance wasn’t even the most impressive in a Thunder uniform during Saturday’s Game 7 against the Grizzlies.
Saturday night, Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to score 27 or more points, distribute 16 or more assists and record at least 10 rebounds in a playoff game.
In his second career Game 7, Westbrook netted his second career Game 7 triple-double, joining Rajon Rondo as the only players in NBA history to record two Game 7 triple-doubles.
LA may want to see if can just win the series in six. Paul’s a strong candidate to do just that.
A double-double in his own Game 7, Paul scored 22 points and had 14 assists against the Warriors. He averaged 17 points, nine assists and nearly five rebounds for that series.
Paul’s ability to drive and dish also makes for more opportunities for Matt Barnes and J.J. Reddick, each of whom came up big at various points during that series.
For Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka and Caron Butler will continue to be leaned upon for meaningful contributions. Ibaka, in particular, as he has the unenviable task of trying to contain Griffin.
Four regular season matchups were split, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be a deep series, either. It promises to be fun, and full of ups-and-downs for both teams.
But the discussion should be about the greatness of watching some of the best athletes basketball has to offer, not about the racist ramblings of an old man, or about an off-base newspaper heading.
Count me among those just happy to take in the theatre.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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