LOS ANGELES — No Serge Ibaka for most of the second half. An out-of-sorts Russell Westbrook all game long. Foul trouble. A 16-point deficit in the second quarter and an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.
None deterred the Thunder.
The Thunder finally wore down the Los Angeles Clippers, ending this prize fight with a 104-98 victory Thursday night to win a rousing Western Conference semifinal.
The Thunder did it with an increasingly-hot Kevin Durant, and a strange lineup that included 40 minutes out of Steven Adams, and resiliency that will serve OKC well next week against the stately San Antonio Spurs.
For the third time in four years, the Thunder is in the Western Conference finals, and this was the hardest journey yet. Seven mosh pit games against Memphis, then six against the athletic and tough Clippers.
But the Thunder matched LA in both. Especially Thursday night.
Ibaka went down with a calf injury early in the third quarter and didn’t return. Westbrook and Durant made just one of 10 shots combined in the first quarter. Foul trouble mounted.
But the Thunder came roaring back, led by Durant, who had 39 points and 15 rebounds. His 3-pointers in the second quarter sucked the wind out of Staples Center, and a fourth-quarter shooting spree helped the Thunder spurt from a 74-74 tie to an 87-80 lead.
This was quite the performance, to win like this without playing well. The Thunder played three games at Staples Center in this series. Won two in solid fashion and blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. That’s quite the showing on the road, which will serve the Thunder well in San Antonio, since homecourt advantage rests with the Spurs.
The Thunder won this with tough defense. OKC locked down the final three quarters, making life rough on Chris Paul, who missed eight of his first 11 shots, and Blake Griffin, who made just eight of 20 shots.
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