If the NBA has eight wonders in its world, four of them were on display at Staples Center on Monday night.
It was the Oklahoma City Thunder versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Both are assured playoffs spots -- the Thunder (44-17) hanging around the top spot in the Western Conference for much of the season and the Clippers, certain to get their own in the last six games but given the final mathematical nudge when Houston lost earlier in the evening.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Clippers' record: A column on the Clippers' victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the April 17 Sports section said that the Clippers had a 3-0 record against the Thunder going into the game, 4-0 after the victory. The Clippers were 2-1 against the Thunder beforehand and 3-1 afterward.
At stake was the ongoing battle for home-court advantage for the Clippers. There was also simple athletic pride for the Thunder, which had gone 0-3 this season against the Clippers, coming in.
Make that a stunning 0-4. The Clippers, with a nifty second-half cloudburst, handled the Thunder again.
There was a time when the Clippers couldn't go 4-0 against the Van Nuys YMCA. But these are the new Clippers and this is the new and joyous reality for Clippers fans.
Behind at the half, 52-43, the Clippers geared up and outscored Oklahoma City in the third quarter, 23-14. They never looked back. The Clippers made all the important noise in this 92-77 victory.
Especially nice was that the fans didn't just get a win, they got a Garden of Eden of talent.
For Oklahoma City, you had basket-a-minute Kevin Durant. His shots are so clean, the net doesn't seem to move. There once was a Laker named Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes, who recently was named to the Hall of Fame. Durant is his own kind of silk, but there certainly is a similarity. The shorts are baggier, but they are both whipped cream, one legendary and the other modern-day.
Durant's wonder running mate is Russell Westbrook, the point guard extraordinaire. He moves like a hang glider and his arms could wrap around the back of an SUV. Westbrook can tie his shoes and keep his back straight. If he had stayed at UCLA, they'd be cleaning out a spot in the Hall of Fame for Ben Howland instead of speculating about his job.
Then there were the Clippers and their terrific two, the human highlight film and his enabler.
Blake Griffin, Mr. Highlight, would dunk on his grandmother. Or on King Kong. He is an equal-opportunity slammer. It's in his DNA. He doesn't have a trapeze, but when he is near the basket, he flies through the air with the greatest of ease. Guarding him is like shutting down a freight train.
His enabler is Chris Paul, a little guy who looks as much like an NBA player as your barber. He is 6 feet, 175 pounds and you might pick him third or fourth for your pickup game, if you didn't know better.
But put a basketball in his hands and it might as well be a magic wand. Everything about Paul is quick and slick. If this NBA thing doesn't work out, he could easily seek work as an NFL running back. Other players drive to the basket. Paul threads the needle. They collapse around him like bowling pins. He leaves them off-balance and mystified. Other players have moves, Paul has GPS.
Monday night, the Thunder played the first half like a team wanting to get rid of a bad taste in its mouth. For the Clippers, the first half was more oops than alley.
But the enabler, who had five assists at halftime, started to light little fires. Early in the third quarter, he drove the lane and kept going under the basket. By then, two or three bowling pins had fallen and 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan was alone under the basket. Alley and Oop and the game started to get closer, more hotly contested.
When Paul hit a three-pointer to cut it to 59-57, the sold-out house of 19,516 in Staples, the 32nd Clippers sellout of the season, heated up too.
The Four Wonders, especially the Clippers' two plus teammates, were in wonderful form.
Paul fed a red-hot Nick Young in the deep right corner for a three-pointer and Griffin, enabling things a bit himself, did the same thing. Lots of noise had been taken out of the Thunder and its lead was 66-65.
With 44 seconds left in the quarter, Griffin went to the free-throw line, tied it at 66, then made the second for the lead, but the buzz-kill referees waved it off for a lane violation and so the teams entered the fourth quarter tied, 66-66.
That quickly brought to mind the pregame assessment of Thunder Coach Scott Brooks.
"Hopefully, Chris [Paul] will miss some shots tonight," Brooks said.
Mostly, he meant miss some shots in the final quarter, where the enabler has enabled the Clippers, longtime jokes in the NBA, to win 38 games, with five left in a 66-game season.
Statistics are usually boring, but not Paul's as a closer. Going into Monday night, he had scored 331 points in the final quarter, 31% of his point total. He has shot 51% from the field in the fourth and has scored 127 points in the final five minutes of games.
Sure enough, Paul's three-pointer got the Clippers a 70-67 lead and with just over five minutes left, Mo Williams' little runner made it 80-73 and Brooks was madly drawing up plays. Defensive ones, presumably.
Didn't work. Williams got hot, Paul continued to facilitate and Brooks had to endure the final indignity. There was no need for closing by Paul, nor his sidekick Griffin. Vinny Del Negro took them out in the last minute.
Think of it as a little clap upside the head of the Thunder.