LOS ANGELES — Tempers flared, technical fouls were tossed and blood was drawn.
Buckle up, folks.
This was only Game 3.
An already thrilling Western Conference semifinal between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers ramped up even more in a swing game that historically has drastically shifted the odds in one team’s favor.
In an ultra-competitive game that featured 13 ties, 19 lead changes and neither team leading by more than eight points, the Thunder survived and regained home-court advantage with a 118-112 win Friday night at Staples Center.
It was the first Game 3 victory in Thunder history when the series is tied 1-1. Oklahoma City was 0-for-5 in its previous attempts.
And this win couldn’t have come at a better time.
Teams that win Game 3 have gone on to win the series 75.9 percent of the time.
With a 2-1 series lead, the Thunder now has a chance to do just that.
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 36 points with eight rebounds and six assists to lead the Thunder, and Russell Westbrook was again sensational with 23 points, eight rebounds and a team-high 13 assists. Serge Ibaka added 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting in 29 minutes for OKC.
Blake Griffin paced the Clippers with 34 points, and Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 16 assists. Jamal Crawford, who was presented with the Sixth Man Award before tip-off, scored 20 points off the Clippers’ bench.
For the second straight game, five players were hit with technical fouls. Durant and Paul received double technicals late in the second quarter for jawing after Durant attempted to swipe the ball from Paul after the whistle. Kendrick Perkins and Matt Barnes also were assessed double technical fouls for staring each other down after briefly being tangled up in the third quarter. And Reggie Jackson was slapped with a technical foul with 30 seconds left in the same period for arguing a call.
Each illustrated how emotional this series has become.
A bloodied Griffin showed how physical things have gotten.
Ibaka inadvertently blooded Griffin’s nose with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter while defending Griffin on a post-up from the right block. No foul was called despite Griffin needing to change into a clean jersey and play the next several minutes with gauze in his left nostril.
Griffin got off to a great start, making up for his subpar Game 2 by attacking the rim with ferocity and drawing fouls at a ridiculous rate. His early aggression resulted in four Thunder players picking up fouls in the opening minutes, including two on Ibaka less than 31/2 minutes into the game. It allowed Griffin to get to the free throw line nine times in the first quarter. He made eight of them for his 14 first-quarter points.
Thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Durant, the Thunder was able to keep pace and trail by only four heading into the second quarter.
That’s when the Thunder’s bench, for the first time this series, showed a pulse.
Jackson carved up the Clippers defense with penetration and crafty finishes at the rim, and Steven Adams provided pivotal hustle plays, pulling down seven rebounds in his first seven minutes. Their efforts helped the Thunder outscore the Clippers, 32-30, in the second quarter and go into the half trailing, 63-61.
After a tightly contested third period, the Clippers entered the final frame ahead, 90-86. But the Thunder seized control with timely offense and impressive defense.
Caron Butler provided some monumental baskets in the fourth quarter, when he banged in all three of his 3-pointers. The final one came off a swing pass from Durant and put the Thunder ahead, 102-100, with 5:52 left to play.
Butler and Jackson entered Game 3 having scored a combined 14 points on 5-for-25 shooting. But they busted out in a big way Friday, contributing a combined 28 points on 9-for-18 shooting.
The Clippers made a small charge inside the final four minutes and appeared ready to take control of the game after a 6-2 spurt that pulled them within 108-107 with 2:33 remaining. But Westbrook sank a straight-away 3-pointer, and after Paul missed a jumper at the other end Durant delivered an MVP-caliber shot when he splashed in a turnaround jumper from the right wing with Paul draped all over him. It put the Thunder up, 113-107, with 1:23 showing on the game clock.
Two more empty Clippers possessions led to Jackson earning and making two free throws after an aggressive drive with the shot clock winding down. He bumped the Thunder’s lead to 115-107 and provided the final margin with another pair of foul shots with 3.8 seconds remaining.