Clippers’ defense wraps up big win over Thunder, and playoff spot

The Clippers clinched a playoff spot, doing so even before they tipped off Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center.

For the first time in six years, the Clippers reached the postseason thanks to the Houston Rockets’ loss to the Denver Nuggets earlier in the evening.

Still, the fact the Clippers defeated the Thunder, 92-77, in a playoff-intensity contest — and particularly the way they did it — was significant to both teams.

The Clippers have won four straight games — two of them against the Thunder, the Western Conference co-leader, in less than a week’s time. The Clippers beat the Thunder by two points last Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

Monday’s victory clinched their season series against the Thunder, 3-1. It was accomplished with a sensational defensive effort in the second half, during which the Clippers outscored Oklahoma City, 49-25. The Thunder had led, 52-43, at halftime.

“This game, a lot of it’s about confidence,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said after his team won for the 12th time in 14 games. “When you beat good teams, it just builds your confidence. But I think our team has a lot of confidence right now.”

That showed in the way Nick Young led the team in scoring with 19 points on seven-for-10 shooting, three for four from three-point range.

It was apparent in the play of Blake Griffin, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots, and Chris Paul, who directed the attack with 12 points and 10 assists.

And it especially showed in the Clippers’ defense, which held the NBA’s second-highest scoring team to 29% shooting in the second half, including 0 for 11 from three-point range.

The Clippers did a terrific job on Russell Westbrook, holding him to nine points on four-for-16 shooting. Kevin Durant had 24 points, but he was just seven for 18 from the field.

At the other end, the Clippers shot 52.6% in the second half, including six for 11 from three-point range. They made nine of 20 three-point shots in the game.

“All in all, it’s not about how many times you beat this team or that team because when you get to the playoffs it’s zero-zero,” Paul said. “It doesn’t matter who you are playing against. But it is a good win for us. We wanted to clinch a playoff berth tonight, especially here at home in front of our home crowd. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

The Clippers, fourth in the West, are one game behind the No. 3 Lakers and opened a 21/2-game lead over fifth-place Memphis for home-court advantage if the teams meet in first round of the playoffs.

This game also was about a measure of revenge for the Thunder after the Clippers’ surprising win last week.

When the teams met earlier this season, the Clippers won at home by 12 points. In the next meeting March 21 in Oklahoma City, the Thunder routed the Clippers by 23 points.

The Clippers are in the playoffs for the first since the 2005-06 season. It’s only their sixth time reaching the postseason since the team moved to Los Angeles 1984.

The Clippers have five regular-season games left, and four of them have the potential to be tough ones because of the playoff implications for all the teams.

They play at Denver on Wednesday night, at Phoenix on Thursday night, at home against lottery-bound New Orleans on Sunday night and at Atlanta and New York next week to finish the season.

“We’re not satisfied with just getting into the playoffs,” Griffin said. “We want more than that.”