FINAL | March 3, 2013 | STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA















LOS ANGELES – With just 20 games remaining for the Clippers in the regular season, playoff positioning is becoming more important as the finish line approaches.

The No. 2 seed in the Western Conference was on the line in Sunday afternoon’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the intensity in the building was palpable. The visiting Thunder got critical baskets late from Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook as they walked away with a thrilling, 108-104, victory at Staples Center, sweeping the season series between the teams in the process.

“Hopefully we can use this as a barometer to tighten some things up,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “No one is going to feel sorry for you. You’ve got to get some good work in, get ready for Wednesday and then move forward." 

The Clippers (43-19) trailed by double digits for nearly three quarters before they finally picked themselves off the mat and threw some haymakers of their own.

They cut a 19-point third quarter deficit to nine at the end of three and continued rolling in the fourth quarter as they took a 100-99 lead on a Jamal Crawford 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:30 left in the game. They outscored the Thunder 59-45 in the second half up to that point and 27-10 in a 10-minute stretch between the third and fourth quarters.

“We have a lot of resilience,” Crawford said. “We have a lot of guys who are going to continue to fight and continue to play. We have a great coaching staff and we believe in everybody that suits up in a uniform.”

But the Thunder (43-16) quickly responded to take the lead on a Westbrook left-handed layup on the following possession and outscored the Clippers, 9-4, in the final 90 seconds. Westbrook finished with a double-double, scoring 29 points and dishing out 10 assists.

“Definitely was a playoff-type game that both teams wanted to win and fortunately we came out with the win,” Westbrook said.

The critical stretch in the fourth came with 3:16 left and the Thunder leading, 97-90. Matt Barnes hit a 3-pointer from the right corner and then, following a dunk by Ibaka, hit another trey from the same spot to cut the deficit to three. On the play, Ibaka was called for committing a flagrant foul on Blake Griffin.

“It’s going to be a tough and chippy game anytime you play a physical team with physical bigs,” Griffin said. “There’s a lot of pushing and all that going on down low.”

Griffin hit one of the two free throws and then Crawford followed that with his go-ahead 3-pointer. Griffin finished with 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds while Crawford added 20 points in 30 minutes off the bench.

It was the third straight time the league’s leading scorer off the bench eclipsed the 20-point mark.

Following a timeout, Westbrook put the Thunder back in front as he sliced through the lane for the layup. He then found Ibaka wide open down low on their next time down the floor for a layup while drawing Griffin’s sixth foul in the process. Ibaka ended up with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and two blocked shots.

Westbrook closed it out with 47 seconds left as he dribbled past the oncoming double-team from the Clippers and hit a 16-foot baseline jumper to put the Thunder up four. He followed the shot with a stare down to someone special in the crowd.

“I was looking at my dad,” Westbrook said. “I missed this corner baseline shot a couple of years back and every time we workout during the summertime he always talks about hitting that shot.”

The Clippers started the game sluggishly and it cost them. They scored just 20 points on 41.2% shooting in the first quarter and missed their first five shots, all jumpers. They were saddled with foul trouble throughout the first half and trailed by as many as 16 points.

“We just couldn’t get any type of rhythm with anybody really,” Del Negro said. “Obviously Blake [Griffin] got in foul trouble early and then [Lamar Odom] picked up three so I was just trying to manage things for the half and then we made some adjustments.”

Turnovers did not help the cause as the Clippers committed 16 turnovers in the first half alone and finished with 21 for the game.

“We had sixteen turnovers in the first half and that’s bogus,” Paul said. “That’s not like us. We usually don’t get sixteen turnovers for the whole game and we had 16 in the first half. That’s embarrassing.”

The Thunder had no such first-half troubles thanks to their dynamic duo. Durant and Westbrook combined for 37 points in the first half on 13-for-25 shooting. Durant finished with a game-high 35 points along with nine rebounds.

“They came out and were a little bit more aggressive early, got to the free throw line and got whatever they wanted,” Paul said. “I think they did a good job in the first half of mucking the lane up. Every time I came down I saw a wall. They basically were trapping me on the ball-screen and in the second half we brought [Odom] in and went small there and opened the court up. Once we opened the court up we could get into the lane and find guys for shots.”

Sunday’s game was the third and final meeting between the teams this regular season and, despite losing all three times the Clippers floor general put little importance in the season-sweep by the Thunder.

“Last year we were three and one against them and they went to the NBA Finals,” Paul said. “Both teams are still building, jockeying for position and stuff like that and we’ve got to keep building up wins because maybe sometime at the end of the season we will see them again.”

Notes. The Thunder are now 9-9 against the Clippers since the franchise relocated from Seattle… The Clippers recorded their 80th consecutive sellout on Sunday… The Thunder made more free throws than the Clippers attempted on Sunday as they went 25-for-34 from the line while the Clippers hit 19-of-22… Caron Butler scored 10 points. It was his sixth double-digit scoring game in the last seven.


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