This was race-horse basketball at its finest, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Clippers, who needed last Sunday’s 125-117 victory over host Oklahoma City in a Western Conference showdown.
The Thunder (43-14) have already been to the NBA Finals, losing to Miami in 2012, and came in with the best overall record.
Both had something to prove beyond that each will qualify for the playoffs, so it was imperative for the Clippers, who shot 51.9 percent from the field (42 of 81), to put their best foot forward after losing to San Antonio by 10 points at home, and Memphis on the road by six after the All-Star Game break.
Every starter for the Clippers (38-20) scored in double figures, including shooting guard Jamal Crawford, who had 36 points on 13 of 20, including five of eight from three-point range.
Crawford was dazzling and even at times eclipsed Oklahoma City small forward Kevin Durant, who chimed in with a game-best 42 points while adding a team-high 10 assists.
Clippers small forward Matt Barnes nailed six of 10 three-pointers and finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, while power forward Blake Griffin added 20 points with seven caroms and six assists.
Early on first-year Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers, who won a title with the Boston Celtics, and saw his team hit 13 of 30 from the three-point arc, complained that Crawford was being fouled as he dribbled down court.
“They’re hand-checking him and not calling a foul,’’ Rivers said, “but when they [Oklahoma City] come down we’re getting called for fouls.”
The man in charge of the Clippers’ offense is point guard Chris Paul, who scored 18 points with a game-best 12 assists and eight rebounds.
The Clippers took a 99-93 lead into the fourth quarter after Durant nailed a trey that closed out the period, led 105-100 with 8:37 left after Crawford’s three, but Oklahoma City outscored the Clippers 7-2 and tied it at 107-107 with 5:39 left after one-time Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (15 points) drained one of his five three-pointers.
The Clippers pulled ahead 119-115 with 1:30 left when Crawford, who dished out four assists, splashed in a three.
When center DeAndre Jordan (18 points and team-high 12 rebounds) dunked with 9:57 left in the first quarter the Clippers led 10-2, but trailed, 32-28, heading into the second quarter.
Oklahoma City power forward Nick Collison (five points and six boards) added a slam with 9:29 showing as the Thunder (43 of 93 for 46.2 percent) forged a 40-32 lead, and pulled in front, 52-48, with five minutes left as Durant drilled a pair of free throws.
Crawford’s layup with 3:44 showing cut the Thunder’s lead to 56-53, but the Clippers closed the half with a 19-10 spurt and led, 72-66.
When point guard Russell Westbrook (13 points with six assists and five caroms) stole the ball and passed to Durant for a jam and 10:59 remaining in the third quarter, Oklahoma City trailed, 72-70.
The Clippers responded with a 15-7 run that was capped by Crawford’s layup as they moved ahead 87-77, and Griffin’s corner trey with 3:26 left made it 91-79.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.