LOS ANGELES — The weight of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a Game 5 meltdown and the Donald Sterling controversy apparently were too much for the Los Angeles Clippers to bear.
Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 25 of his 39 points in the second half, and Oklahoma City eliminated the Clippers with a 104-98 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center on Thursday night.
The Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals, where they will meet the San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 will be played Monday in San Antonio.
Guard Russell Westbrook added 19 points, 17 of them in the second half, and 12 assists for the Thunder, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before rallying in the third quarter.
“Tonight, my teammates did a great job of screening for me,” said Durant, who also had 16 rebounds and five assists and connected on 12 of 23 shots, including five of eight from behind the 3-point arc. “Russ did a great job of setting me up. Russ, Reggie (Jackson) and (Derek Fisher). I just got to finish. I just tried to stay with it, no matter what. I started out slow, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Durant hit eight of 11 from the field in the second half. He also went 10-for-10 at the foul line, seven of them after intermission. Oklahoma City also got strong performances from Jackson and backup center Steven Adams. Jackson came off the bench to score 14 points, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, and Adams finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“He was huge,” Westbrook said of Jackson. “I think Steven was huge. Our bench did a great job.”
Point guard Chris Paul scored 25 points, handed out 11 assists and grabbed seven rebounds for Los Angeles. Forward Blake Griffin contributed 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out with 2:27 remaining in the game. Guard J.J. Redick chipped in 16 points.
“Disappointed,” Griffin said. “I feel like it could have been a very different series with just a couple of small things.”
The Clippers seemed to run out of gas in the second half. Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers wouldn’t use the devastating Game 5 loss Tuesday, when the Clippers blew a seven-point lead in the final 50 seconds, as an excuse. Nor did he blame the outrage surrounding Sterling, who was banned for life by the NBA, and his racist comments as contributing to his team’s demise. Rivers, though, admitted they were a distraction.
“We’ve gone through a lot of stuff over the last three or four weeks,” Rivers said. “I don’t think that’s why we didn’t win. I don’t think we should use that as an excuse. Just watching our guys, it just felt like all this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released all their emotions. That was tough to see for me as one of their leaders. Wish I could have done more for them.”
Paul’s jumper with about eight minutes remaining tied the score at 80, but the Thunder answered with a 10-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Jackson.
Two buckets by Paul closed the margin to 90-84, but Oklahoma City pushed the lead back to double digits after two free throws by Westbrook made it 97-86 with 2:27 left.
The Clippers made a run in the final two minutes. Paul converted a three-point play with 1:49 remaining, and forward Matt Barnes hit a shot in the lane to cut the deficit to 97-93 with 49.8 seconds remaining. However, free throws by Westbrook, Durant and Jackson sealed the win for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City played much of the second half without forward Serge Ibaka, who suffered a calf injury in the third quarter and did not return. Ibaka finished with six points and two rebounds in 26 minutes.
The Clippers led 50-42 at halftime, but the Thunder outplayed them in the third quarter, outscoring Los Angeles 30-22 to pull even at 72 at the end of the period. Durant scored 14 points in the quarter, hitting all five of his field-goal attempts.
Center DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds and nine points for the Clippers.
NOTES: Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers on being fined $25,000 for criticizing the officiating after Game 5: “I don’t care about the fine. I thought it was deserved.” He added that two Clippers employees asked his personal assistant if they could do payroll deductions of $100 each to help pay the fine. “Which we obviously denied,” Rivers said with a laugh. … The Thunder are 3-4 after a playoff win following their Game 6 victory. … The game drew a sellout crowd of 19,565.
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