I’m not quite sure which was less expected: Serge Ibaka’s departure to the locker room in the third quarter — isn’t this guy supposed to be, like, indestructible? — or Nick Collison’s trey with 01.4 left in that quarter to tie the game at 72 after the Thunder had trailed by as many as 16 for 35 of the preceding 36 minutes. That Collison jumper, however, set Oklahoma City firmly on the path of righteousness; over the next 5:15 they outscored the Clippers 15-8, and with 3:11 left, still up seven, Blake Griffin drew his fifth foul, motivating a fan to lob a water bottle onto the court. Forty-five seconds later, Russell Westbrook made his standard mad dash to the rim, and Griffin bit. Goodbye, Blake. OKC ran the lead to eleven before the Clips pushed back with a 7-0 run; a pair of Westbrook free throws made it 99-93 with :32 left. J. J. Redick missed a scoop, Kevin Durant snatched the rebound, drew a foul, made two more freebies. Chris Paul, not going for the obvious trey, came up with a layup; Derek Fisher drew the foul, made two more freebies, and CP3, not going for the obvious layup, knocked down a trey; Reggie Jackson drew the foul, hit one of two, and goodbye, Clippers: 104-98, Thunder in six, and OKC will face — who else? — the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference final.
Three double-doubles contributed to this happy state: Durant, of course (39 points, 16 boards); Westbrook, of course (19 points, 12 assists); and, mirabile dictu, Steven Adams (10 points, 11 boards). Jackson’s last free throw gave him 14 to lead the bench. What is perhaps most remarkable, I think, is that neither Durant nor Westbrook accomplished a great deal in the first half; Westbrook ended up 4-15 for the night, collecting 11 out of 12 from the line, and KD finished with a +6, Westbrook +12. (Both of them will happily point out that Adams was +17 and Collison +16.)
No double-doubles from Los Angeles, though Griffin, his time cut short, came close to a triple: 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists. CP3 led the Clips with 25. Somehow Jamal Crawford, who’s always a threat, wasn’t a threat; he played 14 minutes and made more fouls than shots. DeAndre Jordan pulled down a rollicking 15 boards to go with 9 points. The Clips left eight points at the charity stripe, which can’t have helped their cause. (They were 12-20, OKC 29-33.) And in the end, the Clips were as good as their third seed said they were. It just didn’t happen to be enough.
Monday night in San Antonio. It doesn’t get any better than this — not right away, anyway.