By Greg Beacham Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Kevin Durant had 39 points and 16 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 104-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Russell Westbrook overcame a slow start to finish with 19 points and 12 assists as the Thunder reached the conference finals for the third time in four years, closing out Los Angeles with two straight wins.
Two days after the Thunder erased a late 13-point deficit to win Game 5, the Thunder rallied from an early 16-point deficit and maintained their lead throughout the fourth quarter, shaking off any memories of their Game 4 collapse.
Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, and Blake Griffin scored 22 points as the Clippers’ exhausting postseason ended in disappointment.
Durant hit five 3-pointers and Reggie Jackson added 14 points for Oklahoma City, which will face the Spurs in a rematch of the West’s last two champions. The series begins Monday night in San Antonio.
J.J. Redick scored 16 points for the Clippers, who followed their epic collapse in Game 5 with a disappointing second half at home. Despite a raucous home crowd, Los Angeles won’t play for its first trip to a conference finals.
Perhaps the cumulative pressure of two playoff series amid the distractions of owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban finally cost the Clippers, who couldn’t keep up late.
Or perhaps Durant is just that good.
The Clippers were in control for most of the first three quarters. But the league MVP kept the Thunder close and eventually ignited a 30-10 run stretching across the final two quarters. Westbrook, who didn’t have a field goal until late in the third quarter, contributed 10 points in the fourth as the Thunder comfortably maintained their lead.
The fans’ frustration boiled over after an offensive foul call against Griffin with 3:11 to play. During the ensuing timeout, fans threw at least two drinks at referee Ed Malloy, causing a slight delay while the floor was cleaned.
Griffin fouled out with 2:27 left, but the Clippers got within four points in the final minute before Westbrook and Durant hit free throws to close it out.
The loss ended a tumultuous postseason for the Clippers, who managed to win a seven-game series with Golden State in the first round even while Sterling was banned from the NBA for life for racist comments exposed during that series.
Oklahoma City smoothly secured its spot in the conference finals after these teams traded spectacular collapses in the last two games.
The Thunder blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4 at Staples Center, but the Clippers responded by blowing a 13-point lead in the final four minutes in Oklahoma City. The blame for the Clippers’ collapse fell mostly on Paul, who made two turnovers and a touch foul on Westbrook for the winning free throws in the final 14 seconds.
The Clippers showed little carry-over from their collapse early in Game 6, while the Thunder appeared a step slow and disorganized, falling behind by 16 points in the first half. Durant and Westbrook combined to miss their first nine shots.
NOTES: Serge Ibaka scored six points before going to the locker room in the third quarter with an injured left calf. … The NBA fined Rivers $25,000 on Thursday for his criticism of the officiating in Game 5. “I thought it was deserved,” Rivers said. … Matt Damon, Rihanna, Tony Romo, Oscar De La Hoya, UFC President Dana White, former Clippers guard Eric Gordon and Masters champion Bubba Watson attended the game. Jack Nicholson watched from a seat near the Clippers’ bench. The archetypal Lakers fan also has occasionally attended Clippers games over the years.