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.
“Tonight’s game was something that we’ve done all year,” Scotty Brooks said. “We’ve all stuck together and found ways to win.”
You know, he’s right. This win was reminiscent of the stretches when the Thunder had to play without Westbrook, or without Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, or without all three.
“We weren’t making a lot of shots,” Brooks said. “Kevin and Russell did not have a good shooting first half, but they competed. I thought the other guys jumped in and held down the fort and made it a respectable deficit that we had to overcome – just eight points.
“In the second half, obviously, they (Durant and Westbrook) got hot, did a great job of executing. It’s something we’ve been working on and we’ve been a very good offensive team all year, a high-percentage shooting team and I thought our shots were much better in that fourth quarter.”
The Thunder just wore down the Clippers. Durant still was great in the fourth quarter. And Westbrook was just as ferocious as ever. The Clippers failed to match those young legs and roaring hearts.
And now it’s on to the Spurs, who will provide yet another rattlesnake opponent. But the Thunder is well-prepared for such a series.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.