LOS ANGELES — It was time.
From the words on the T-shirts draped over the seats Saturday dating to the preseason marketing meetings, “It’s time” became the rallying call for the season.
“It’s time” meant that the building was over. The trek from laughing stock to contender was going to be completed
But with the series tied 3-3, it meant it was time for the Clippers to do something incredible.
Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul — the Clippers’ leaders and captains — all had memorable moments in the final minutes of a 126-121 win, setting up a second-round match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For Doc Rivers, it was time to smile, with the Clippers coach pumping his fist in celebration in the final seconds.
Paul gritted his way through hamstring and thumb injuries to have one of his best games of the series, scoring 22 points while adding 14 assists. Griffin, who had struggled in Games 4, 5 and 6 exploded for eight of his 24 points in the fourth and DeAndre Jordan blocked shots and slammed home key baskets.
But Golden State got six points on consecutive possessions, with Stephen Curry hitting three free throws after being fouled by Paul and Draymond Green hitting his fifth 3 of the game with 13 seconds left to get Golden State to within two.
J.J. Redick splashed in two free throws and Curry missed a runner.
All five Clippers starters scored in double figures with Jamal Crawford, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, scoring 22 off the bench.
After a series marred with distractions related to audio of Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks, Game 7 was almost entirely about basketball.
But for the Clippers to reach the destiny they thought was theirs – a deep run in the postseason – a lot of things needed to go better Saturday night.
Green, the thorn in Blake Griffin’s side, couldn’t make his first six shots. The Clippers couldn’t come up empty tossing Jordan lobs. They couldn’t lose out on crucial loose balls. They couldn’t allow the Warriors’ 3-point offense, which had been mostly quiet for the first six games, get going.
But all those things occurred, and the Clippers trailed by double digits on multiple occasions.
When the Clippers would get close, like they did in the second quarter, Golden State had an answer. An offensive rebound in the final minute found its way into Curry’s hands, and he promptly hit a 3 while drawing a foul on Matt Barnes.
Curry, who scored 13 points in the first half, could’ve done even more damage if his half-court heave hadn’t have been just after the buzzer.
Curry’s primary help came from Green who until now had left his biggest imprint on the defensive side of the court. Green hit his first six attempts on his way to a series-high 24 points.
Still, the Clippers, despite trailing by as many as 12, weren’t done fighting. In the first 61/2 minutes of the third quarter, the Clippers erased an eight-point deficit as the Warriors finally started to miss.
Redick salvaged a possession that could’ve ended two separate times with a turnover, hitting a jumper to give the Clippers their first lead 73-72.
Redick’s 10 third-quarter points put the Clippers 12 minutes away from a win, giving them a three-point lead heading to the fourth.
Golden State, though, wasn’t done. The Warriors bench, led by Jordan Crawford, turned an eight-point deficit into a fourth-quarter lead after six quick points from the former Celtic.
The Clippers made multiple runs, though, to go into the final minute with a three-point lead before Griffin scored on an incredible finish in the paint, setting the team up for the close win.