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Thunder take 2-1 series lead by beating Clippers, 118-112, in Game 3

Pro BasketballBasketballLos Angeles ClippersOklahoma City ThunderBlake GriffinChris PaulRussell Westbrook

Well, the Clippers gave up the home-court advantage that they took with a win in Game 1 in Oklahoma City.

In a tight, hotly contested Game 3 on Friday night at Staples Center, the Oklahoma City Thunder held on through the final minutes to beat the Clippers, 118-112.

The Thunder lead the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal playoff series, two games to one. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. From there the series alternates single games between Oklahoma City and Staples.

You can’t say enough about NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, who scored 36 points while logging an incredible 46 minutes for the Thunder.

And point guard Russell Westbrook was very strong with 22 points while power forward Serge Ibaka added 20 for the Thunder.

Blake Griffin was certainly no slouch, scoring 34 points to lead the Clippers. Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 15 assists.

The game was close from the start, with neither team having more than a eight-point lead. The score was tied 13 times and there were 19 lead changes.

Reserve guard Jamal Crawford kept the Clippers in the game as starter J.J. Redick was exceptionally ineffective, scoring only five points. It was fitting as Crawford was awarded the Sixth Man of the Year Award before the game as he finished with 20 points.

One area the Clippers have to get better in is rebounding. The Thunder had a healthy 44-33 edge on the boards.

A basket by former Clipper Carol Butler with 9:29 left gave the Thunder the lead for the first time in the final quarter, 93-92. Durant followed that with a three-point play and the lead was four. But the Clippers came back with back-to-back buckets by Griffin and Crawford to tie the score again.

The Thunder built a five-point lead with 4:00 to play after a couple of baskets by Ibaka, who was playing with five fouls. Butler helped keep the Thunder in front during the middle of the fourth quarter with a couple of three-pointers. He finished with 14 points.

The Clippers were able to close to within one point but Westbrook and Durant were the difference in the closing minutes as the Clippers missed too many shots.

The Thunder shot 56% from the field in the game, while the Clippers shot 45%.

Clippers 90, Thunder 86 (end of third quarter)

Can the Clippers figure out a way to stop NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant? Can the Thunder shut down the Blake Griffin-Chris Paul combination?

That’s what it might come down to as the hotly contested Game 3 between the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder enters the final quarter. The Clippers hold a 90-86 lead.

Or it could be decided at the foul line where the Thunder is a blistering 18 of 19. The Clippers are not too bad either making 20 of 23.

Durant has been the game’s leading scorer with 29 points. Griffin has 22 and Paul 20 for the Clippers.

The third quarter was very much back and forth with neither team able to put up a decent run.

But if the Clippers needed any reason to raise it a level it came with less than six minutes to play in the quarter when battling for a rebound Serge Ibaka caught Blake Griffin in the nose with an elbow. Griffin had blood dripping down his face, but no foul was called. At that point the Thunder had a three-point lead, 74-71.

The Thunder could never get the lead past four points for the next few minutes and with 2:45 left in the quarter Matt Barnes made a put-back basket after two Griffin attempts in the paint to close the game to two, where it had been many times before.

Then Reggie Jackson missed a three-pointer and the Clippers came back with a Jamal Crawford basket to tie the score at 80-80 with 2:14 left.

From there it was back and forth until the final shot, during which Durant fouled Crawford almost at the buzzer to give him three fouls shots. He made all three. And that’s a four-point Clipper lead.

Clippers 63, Thunder 61 (Halftime)

So, with Friday night’s game half over you would think we should have some clue as to who has the edge.

Operative word is “should.” Not tonight.

This game looks as if it will not be decided until late in the fourth quarter or even later. After 24 minutes of play the Clippers led the Oklahoma City Thunder, 63-61. The best-of-seven series is tied, 1-1. Game 4 will be Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

One thing that wasn’t a surprise is how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the key to the Thunder offense. In Game 2 they combined for 66 points. In this game they have 44 of the 61 points. Durant had 21 on 7-of-13 shooting, while Westbrook had 13 on a less impressive 4 for 10.

It should also be no surprise that the Clippers were led by Blake Griffin, who had 16 points thanks mostly to eight-of-nine shooting from the free-throw line. Chris Paul had 14 points, making two of three three-pointers.

Interesting stat was the Clippers had only two turnovers to the eight by the Thunder.

The Clippers started to slip behind midway through the quarter because they just couldn’t hit shots and the Thunder was the opposite. With about six minutes left in the quarter, the Clippers were shooting 35% and the Thunder 60%. Can’t win games that way.

The Clippers held a 41-40 lead after Jamal Crawford made a shot and subsequent free throw. The Thunder then went on a little spurt with baskets by Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka to claim a five-point lead.

Matt Barnes, who had been scoreless, made his first basket with 4:43 left until halfime and followed that up with another. Paul then completed a trifecta of Clipper baskets, and with 3:43 to play the Clippers took back the lead, 49-48.

The remainder of the quarter went back and forth, with Barnes finishing with nine points. The missing man for the Clippers was J.J. Redick, who had two points in 14 minutes.

Clippers 33, Thunder 29 (end of first quarter)

If there was any sign needed that Game 3 tonight would be hard fought you can submit the first quarter as evidence.

Thanks to their free-throw shooting (12 of 13) the Clippers took a four-point lead, 33-29, into the second quarter. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.

The two stars were pretty obvious, too. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 15 points and Blake Griffin had 14 for the Clippers, mostly on the strength of eight-for-nine shooting from the free-throw line.

One of the things the Clippers needed to do was get Griffin engaged in the offense early. And that certainly happened.

Griffin scored nine of the Clippers' first 11 points, five of those coming on free throws. There was no question that part of the Thunder strategy was to go at Griffin.

With 7:45 to play Russell Westbrook was called for a flagrant foul on Griffin, which was downgraded on review. Griffin went to the line and made one of two to give he Clippers a six-point lead, 14-8.

Durant to that point was invisible in the offense with two missed shots. But he came back with a three-pointer and a two, and the Thunder's deficit was just one point. He didn’t stop there, scoring the next four Thunder points.

Part of the problem for the Clippers was their inability to make a three-pointer. They were shut out until 2:08 was left in the quarter when Paul made one. Jamal Crawford, who was awarded the Sixth Man of the Year Award before the game, made two. The Clippers were three for eight from long range in the quarter.

In fact, they weren’t that great shooting twos, going 6 for 14.

Pregame

By day the Clippers are a national curiosity, a daily tabloid headline. By night (mostly), they have to forget the turmoil, shake the questions and become a basketball team again.

Friday, on the day the NBA announced veteran businessman Richard Parsons as CEO, the Clippers were set for an important Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. The best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series is tied, 1-1.

The intersections of those realities was put into perspective by Clippers guard J.J. Redick when The Times' Broderick Turner asked him about the appointment of Parsons on Friday afternoon.

“I think it’s a secondary issue right now,” Redick said. “Our main focus is figuring out a way to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.”

Indeed. In Game 2 on Wednesday, Durant and Westbrook combined for 62 points, 22 rebounds and 19 assists. Westbrook was credited with a triple-double, although his final assist in the closing seconds looked more like a gift from the scorekeeper.

The Clippers were very happy to get out of Oklahoma City with a road win in Game 1. Now, back home, they have to hold serve over the next two games to avoid giving up the home-court advantage they have gained

.

Besides stopping the Thunder backcourt, the Clippers need to get one member of their frontcourt into the game -- Blake Griffin. In Wednesday’s Game 2, Griffin had an invisible 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

For the Clippers to advance, they need to get Griffin involved in the offense. How will that go in Game 3? We’ll know the answer in a few hours.

--John Cherwa

How the teams match up

The Clippers need two straight wins on Friday and Sunday to hold on to the home-court advantage they stole in the series opener. To do so, the Clippers will need to improve significantly on the glass after getting out-rebounded in Game 2 by a 52-36 margin. Durant and Westbrook combined for 22 rebounds, eight more than the Clippers' Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Key matchup

As vital as Paul is to the Clippers' offense, Griffin is the key to his squad's inside game -- and their best chance at getting past the Thunder.

Through two games, Griffin has not been nearly as efficient as he was in the Clippers' seven-game first-round win over the Golden State Warriors.

On Wednesday, the Clippers' all-star power forward scored just 15 points on 5-13 shooting. The length of Serge Ibaka and the physicality of rookie Steven Adams proved to be a challenge.

Ibaka nearly matched Griffin's scoring with 14, while Adams added six on 3-4 shooting in 17 minutes.

Griffin should -- and certainly needs to -- bounce back in Game 3.

X-factor

Durant and Westbrook are among the most dynamic scorers in the league.

The Clippers may be able to manage the Thunder even if the duo combines for 60 points -- as long as Durant and Westbrook aren't also dishing out 19 assists combined (as they did in Game 2).

Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson has yet to make a mark in the series. In Game 1, he scored just four points on 1-8 shooting. Two days later, he managed four while missing three of five attempts.

Jackson is one of the few players on the Thunder, aside from the two stars, who can create his own shot. The Clippers can't afford to let Jackson break out in Game 3.

Defensively, the Clippers need Jordan to stay out of foul trouble.

Though it might be debatable whether Paul or Griffin is more important on offense for the team, Jordan is clearly the center of the Clippers' defense.

Outlook

Expect a long series, starting with a strong performance from the Clippers in Game 3.

--Eric Pincus

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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