Thrills

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Darren Collison is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered reserve point guard for the Clippers. The one-time UCLA standout is in his fifth season, and good enough to be a starter for some NBA teams.

In what was the biggest game of the season and perhaps franchise history, Collison came off the bench and tallied 12 of his 18 points in the final quarter, pushing the Clippers to a 101-99 come-from-behind win over Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center last Sunday when the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook missed a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.

Collison wasn’t alone as he had help in two All-Star performers, point guard Chris Paul (23 points with 10 assists) and power forward Blake Griffin (25 points with nine rebounds).

“It’s definitely up there,’’ said Collison on the game’s importance which tied the best of seven series at two games apiece. “We stuck with it and we stuck with it. We’ve done this before. It’s a long game.’’

For much of the fourth quarter a small Clippers’ lineup was on the floor, with Paul even guarding the much taller small forward Kevin Durant.

Collison, who played with Westbrook at UCLA, knows his role. “This is Chris’ and Blake’s team,’’ he said. “I just try to do the little things. I get a lot of encouragement from [Head Coach] Doc [Rivers]. He tells me to go. Play your game.”

This has been a trying time for the Clippers and Rivers after longtime owner Donald T. Sterling made insensitive remarks about African Americans and was later banned for life by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Rivers doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the team, but knows what’s at stake. “This makes it 2-2,’’ said the first-year Clippers head man, who led the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008. “Right now it’s even. It’s a best two-out-of-three.’’

The Clippers trailed from the outset and appeared on the verge of being routed as they fell behind by 22 points in the opening half, and were down, 57-46, at the break as Durant, the recently-named Most Valuable Player, dropped in 19 of his game-best 40 points, while Westbrook had 15 of his 27.

Oklahoma City (33 of 75 from the field for 44 percent) forged a 75-63 advantage after three quarters as reserve point guard Reggie Jackson (10 points) nailed a three-pointer with mere seconds left in the stanza.

The Clippers tied it at 94-94 on a three-point play from Griffin with 1:50 showing in the fourth quarter, but Durant (seven rebounds) tossed in a free throw that made it 95-94.

Reserve shooting guard Jamal Crawford (18 points) sank a trey that gave the Clippers a 97-95 lead, but Westbrook (eight assists and six boards) tied it at 97-97. Collison’s hoop gave the Clippers a 99-97 edge with 59 seconds on the clock.

Oklahoma City made its first seven shots from the floor and raced to a 15-3 lead with 7:09 left after Westbrook hit a three.

The Clippers came within 29-11 when reserve small forward Glen Davis (four points and three assists) scored with 2:21 left in the first quarter, and Paul’s bucket with seconds remaining sent the Clippers (41.9 percent on 39 of 93) into the second quarter down, 32-15.

At this point the capacity crowd of 19,365 was sitting on its hands, but then the Clippers went on a 8-4 run and came within 36-23 with 9:26 left, cut it to 48-42, before Oklahoma City went on a 9-4 spurt to end the half.

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 richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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