LOS ANGELES — There’s a reason Scott Brooks doesn’t put a ton of stock into seeding.
And it’s real simple.
“It’s not about who has the best seed,” the Thunder coach said before a pivotal showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers that would go a long way in determining just that.
“It’s about who can win four out of seven.”
Oklahoma City is confident it can win anywhere, against anyone — including the Clippers.
But the Thunder, with an authoritative 107-101 win over the Clippers on Wednesday night inside Staples Center, only helped itself hold off having to prove it can do that in the postseason.
The win virtually assures the Thunder will enter the playoffs as the Western Conference’s 2 seed. With San Antonio all but locked into the top seed, it’s not only the best-case scenario remaining, but it’s also a significant spot that would give OKC homecourt advantage in the second round and a potential matchup with these same Clippers.
“It’s a big win,” said Russell Westbrook. “Both teams were looking forward to this matchup. They were trying to see if they could make it to 2, and we were making sure we wasn’t going to drop.”
Oklahoma City moved 2 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles with four left to play. To claim second place, the Clippers would now need to win their final three, and the Thunder would have to go 2-2 the rest of the way. It’s an unlikely result given the Thunder’s relatively easy remaining schedule. Oklahoma City hosts New Orleans on Friday before traveling to Indiana on Sunday and wrapping up the regular season with a road game against the Pelicans and the finale coming at home against Detroit.
The Clippers won two of the season’s first three meetings, giving the impression that they were simply a bad matchup for the Thunder. And in some ways, that might still be the case. Jamal Crawford, a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year who has been a pest for the Thunder with a 24.7-point average in three games against OKC this year, missed the game, his fifth straight, with a calf injury.
But with Oklahoma City playing with its full complement of players for just the second time since Christmas, the Thunder once again showed how powerful it can be.
The Thunder led by as many as 17 points and controlled the game from the opening period until a fourth-quarter rally by the Clippers closed the gap and put the outcome in doubt. Oklahoma City led 89-73 with 10 minutes remaining but watched its lead shrink to as small as one point twice in the final five minutes.
“They’re a very good basketball team, and they were going to make a run,” Brooks said. “I like the fact that we weathered the storm through our defense. We didn’t make shots during that tough stretch when they came back. But our defense did a good job.”
A few timely hustle plays and one huge shot didn’t hurt.
Blake Griffin, who had been sensational all game, missed two free throws and a chance to tie the game at 97 with 2:54 remaining. Westbrook then made him and the Clippers pay, creeping in for a powerful one-handed putback dunk to push the lead to four.
“To win big games, you’ve got to do the little things,” Westbrook said. “It’s not always going to be a big shot. It may be a big steal, a big rebound, a big block, a big box out. You never know what it may be. But we did all those things tonight.”