LOS ANGELES (AP) — With some help, the Los Angeles Clippers had already clinched their first playoff berth in five years before they tipped off against Oklahoma City. Then they went out and earned it.
Nick Young scored 19 points off the bench, Blake Griffin added 17 and Randy Foye 13 to beat the Thunder 92-77 on Monday night.
“It is something that we’re happy about, but by no means is that all we want,” said Griffin, who like a lot of his teammates will be in the postseason for the first time. “That was one of our goals coming in, but it goes farther than that.”
Houston lost to Denver by three points earlier Monday night, ensuring the Clippers would end the second-longest active postseason drought in the league.
“I’m happy we can get Blake on TV in May,” DeAndre Jordan said.
Griffin had 11 rebounds and Jordan grabbed 12 in the Clippers’ fourth straight victory and 12th in their last 14 games. Their 38 wins are the most since the franchise had 40 in 2006-07.
“This is a great feeling,” said Paul, whose acquisition shortly before the lockout ended has played a key role in the Clippers’ changing fortunes. “We can celebrate it, be excited about it tonight but tomorrow we’re back at work.”
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points, Serge Ibaka and James Harden added 12 points each, and Russell Westbrook was held to nine as the Thunder’s two-game winning streak ended. San Antonio beat Golden State to move percentage points ahead of the Thunder in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West.
“There’s no time to panic right now,” Durant said. “We have to win the next game in order to get our momentum back.”
The Clippers didn’t need the victory to achieve their immediate goal, but they played like they wanted it in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunder 26-11.
“We got good looks, but we were missing shots and they picked their intensity up,” Durant said. “It was just one of those tough ones for us. I missed a few 3s, Russell missed a few elbow jump shots, which he normally makes, and Serge missed some that went in and out. That’s how the game is, man.”
Mo Williams hit a 3-pointer for the Clippers’ first lead since they scored the game’s first basket. Eric Bledsoe came in for Paul and calmly ran the offense, feeding Williams and Young, who combined for 10 of their first 14 points.
“We’re one of the best second units in the league,” said Young, who joined the Clippers a month ago in a trade from Washington. “I’m excited. I was waiting for one of these type of games. To get it tonight against one of the league’s top teams was great.”
Griffin scored on back-to-back rim-rattling dunks that had the Clippers’ 32nd sellout crowd of the season on its feet roaring. Paul briefly came back in, but Williams and Foye made consecutive 3s to stretch their lead to 90-77, so the All-Star guard sat down again with the game in hand.
“We have enough offensive power to play with anybody, but our defense is what triggers us,” Paul said. “When we defend, we’re tough to guard.”
Foye dribbled out the final seconds with a smile on his face, although at the buzzer the Clippers did little more than smile and hug each other.
“We know that’s not the only thing we want,” Jordan said. “We still have a goal for this team, and this is just one of the steps towards it.”
The Clippers won the season series, 3-1.
“They’re really good, but I don’t think they’re a better team than us,” Durant said. “It’s not like we’re afraid of them or that we’re scared to see those guys later on. But you have to give them credit. They beat us.”
The Clippers dominated the third, outscoring the Thunder 23-14. Durant and Westbrook were shut out, while Ibaka scored 12, including nine in a row. Young scored eight straight, hitting two consecutive 3s, to draw Los Angeles within one. Durant banged into Griffin on the perimeter for the foul. Griffin made both shots, but the second was disallowed when Jordan committed a lane violation, leaving the game tied at 66.
“We picked up the defensive intensity to start the third quarter,” Paul said. “We got some steals, got out in transition, guys hit some big buckets and we were able to sustain that momentum.”
The Thunder led by 11 points in the second quarter. The Clippers closed within four three times, the last time on a 10-3 run including four in a row by Griffin. But the Thunder ran off the final five points to go up 52-43 at halftime. Ibaka had three fouls in the first half when he had no rebounds and no points.
NOTES: Paul took his 2-year-old son to a Dodgers game on Sunday. They were both wearing Dodgers caps and his son waved at the crowd. “They booed me bad,” he said. “I was just happy that my son didn’t know what was going on.” … The Clippers play four of their final five games on the road, where they will try to finish with a .500 or better record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. … They are 15-14 away from home, one of just three Western Conference teams with a winning road mark. … The Thunder fell to 19-11 on the road, still tops in the West. … The Thunder came in averaging 103.1 points. … Durant made 10 of 12 free throws, but the Thunder was just 62 percent from the line, well below their league-leading 80.3 percent.
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