CLIPPERS CLINCH PLAYOFFS, BEAT OKC |
- RYAN MENEZES
LOS ANGELES - With the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder in town, Staples Center had a buzz inside well before tipoff.
It set the stage for a 92-77 win, one of the biggest of the season, and was cause for the crowd to roar multiple times. It was hard to figure out when the noise was at its peak.
Was it when Nick Young rolled off eight-straight points in a little over a minute in the third quarter, erasing a Thunder lead that was as large as 11?
Was it when a fan celebrating his 21st birthday collected a brand-new Jeep by hitting a half-court shot in the Clippers penultimate home game of the season?
Or was it when they clinched the fifth playoff berth in Clipper history? That was certainly the moment that mattered the most to the Clippers themselves.
"I've never been to the playoffs and a lot of guys on this team haven't either," DeAndre Jordan said. "We're excited. The fans and the franchise have been waiting for something like this to happen for a while."
Officially, the playoff berth was sealed in the first half courtesy of Houston's loss to Denver. Then, the Clippers (38-23) went out and beat the Thunder (44-17) for good measure. It was their 12th win in 14 games and third in four tries this season against the Thunder, who fell into a tie with San Antonio for the West's top record.
Difference Maker: Young was hot the second he stepped on the court. He made his first two shots in the first quarter but turned it on when the Clippers needed it most. His eight third-quarter points, all consecutive, helped the Clippers surge in front while the Thunder struggled to make its shots.
Turning Point: Of all of the aforementioned plays that made Staples Center buzz, Griffin's pair of slams sent a message to the Thunder.
The plays were near carbon copies, with Mo Williams and Griffin running a two-man game on the left side of the court. Williams patiently took a Griffin screen, danced around, then hit his power forward with bounce passes that Griffin finished with thunderous slams.
"Mo just set me up," Griffin said. "We spaced the floor and everyone was hitting shots so they had to worry about everybody and couldn't just load up all game. Mo hit me with two great passes and that's what got me loose."
Stat Line of the Night: Griffin had 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks.
Randy Foye had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 3-pointers. His highlight was a one-handed fast-break slam on Serge Ibaka, the NBA's leading shot blocker.
Mo Williams had 11 points off the bench.
Kevin Durant had a game-high 24 points but had a rough shooting day, going 0-for-7 from three and shooting 7-for-18 on the game.
Hot: Young, who had a team-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting and hit 3-of-4 3-pointers.
Not: The Thunder in the second half. Oklahoma City shot just 9-of-31 after the break, 0-of-11 from three, and scored as many points in the second half as it did in the second quarter (25). The 25 points in the second half was a season low for a half for the Thunder, the league's second highest scoring team (103.1 points per game).
On the overall effort:
Del Negro: "I was pleased with the team effort tonight. It's going to be difficult to get all of these guys enough minutes to keep them satisfied. But if the ultimate thing is actually to win, you have to work your minutes."
On making the playoffs:
Young: "First time, as a rookie in Washington, I didn't really play I just watched. Now I'm going to get a chance to get out there so I'm excited."
Griffin: "It's definitely a stepping stone to bigger things. We don't want to be complacent with just making the playoffs. That was one of our goals coming in. It is a positive, it is a plus and it's something that we're happy about but my no means is that all."
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