LOS ANGELES — In the end, the Thunder had to overcome a sudden lack of composure, plus a seven-point possession by the Los Angeles Clippers that occurred with 90 seconds left in the game.
Thanks in large part to point guard Russell Westbrook, OKC conquered all Sunday afternoon en route to a 108-104 survival mission before a hostile sellout crowd of 19,371 at Staples Center.
The Clippers were well on their way to an impressive comeback victory, wiping out a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit with more than half that deficit made up in one crazy possession.
With 1:52 remaining and the Thunder leading 99-93, OKC forward Serge Ibaka punched former Oklahoma great Blake Griffin in the nether region under the basket while forward Matt Barnes was in the process of draining a 3-pointer.
Barnes basket counted; Ibaka was whistled for a Flagrant I foul that shockingly was not upgraded to a Flagrant II; Griffin hit one of two free throws; the Clippers got possession of the ball; missed two shots, but got two offensive rebounds; then Jamal Crawford hit a 3-pointer to give LA its first lead of the game at 100-99 with 1:30 left.
That's when Westbrook took control, on the court and in the huddle.
Much has been made of the maniacal Westbrook, who frequently has failed to keep his wits about him in crucial moments throughout his career.
The exact opposite was true against the Clippers, and Thunder coach Scott Brooks has grown weary of withholding information of just how valuable Westbrook is to his team.
“I'll give Russell a lot of credit,” Brooks said. “He got the guys together. There was some good dialogue with all of his teammates and we made plays down at the end of the game. Those three or four plays were executed, and he did a good job of making sure that we did execute them.”
Westbrook's timing was impeccable, scoring 14 points in the first quarter and 10 points in the final six minutes of the game. He finished with 29 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
Because of Westbrook, the Clippers held the lead for just five seconds after he drove down the middle for a layup to give OKC the lead for good with 1:25 left.
With 26.7 seconds remaining, Westbrook drained a 16-footer jumper from the left baseline to give the Thunder a 106-102 cushion.
“I missed a baseline shot (earlier in the game), and every time we work out in the summertime we always talk about hitting that shot,” Westbrook said afterward. “And I hit it.”
Brooks spoke of Westbrook's noticeable improvement as a leader each season, a role that was overwhelming for someone who was age 20 and 21 his first two seasons.
“He's done a great job and today was a classic example of what he has done,” Brooks said of the three-time All-Star. “We know that. We see it all the time. We don't like to tell everybody how good he is, but he leads our team. He's an emotional guy, he keeps everybody together, and he's a big reason why we won this game (with his) dialogue in the locker room, dialogue in the timeouts and on the court.”
Asked to expound about leadership skills in those moments, Westbrook shrugged it off with another one of his dull, self-effacing responses so not to draw attention to himself.
“It was a good win, a good road win for us,” Westbrook said. “It was definitely a physical game in a playoff type atmosphere, so it was a good win.”
Westbrook was right. It indeed was a good win, the Thunder's most noteworthy road victory since, well, the last time it beat the Clippers in Staples Center on Jan. 22 by a 109-97 count.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder (43-16) with 35 points and nine rebounds and also had four assists and two steals. Ibaka had 16 points and shot 7 for 9 from the field.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul led the Clippers (43-19) with 26 points and eight assists. Griffin had 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists before fouling out. Crawford had 20 points and shot 4 for 5 from 3-pont range.
Sunday's triumph snapped OKC's three-game losing streak on the road. It also gave OKC a three-game season sweep over the Clippers, but this was the first time the Clips were at full strength.
Paul sat out with a kneecap injury in the Thunder's previous victory at Staples and starting guard Chauncey Billups also missed that contest.
OKC had lost seven of its last 10 road games and is now 17-12 away from home this season.