Somewhere, amidst all the technical fouls and whining to the officials, a basketball game was played in Los Angeles Friday night, and what a game it was.
Oklahoma City showed great resolve down the stretch of the fourth quarter, holding off Los Angeles to take a 2-1 series lead with a 118-112 Game 3 victory over the Clippers.
The loss was the Clippers' first this season when leading after three quarters. L.A. came into Friday night 35-0 this year when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. Oklahoma City also snapped an 0-4 mark in Game 3s with the series tied, 1-1.
While the Thunder's first round series with Memphis was a slugfest in and of itself, it was clear the two teams had a healthy respect for one another. There is nothing of the sort between OKC and the Clippers. To say the two teams don't care for one another would be an understatement.
Five more technical fouls were issued Friday night, bringing the total through three games to 12. And so much time was wasted complaining about foul calls that were called—or were not called—it's amazing the game didn't last four hours. Both teams are looking for any advantage that would propel them to the next round, particularly the Clippers, who are trying to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Beyond the chippiness and the mutual dislike, the game itself was pretty spectacular. OKC's Big Three was huge Friday night, as the Thunder got efficient performances from all three of its big stars. Kevin Durant put up another MVP performance, scoring 36 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. Durant's biggest shot came late in the fourth quarter, a filthy fadeaway over Chris Paul to push OKC's lead to 113-107 with 1:23 to play.
Russell Westbrook was two rebounds away from his second-straight triple-double. He finished with 23 points and 13 assists against just two turnovers. It was Westbrook who came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer late in the shot clock to give the Thunder a four-point lead with 2:10 to go in the game.
Serge Ibaka turned in one of his best performances of the playoffs, scoring 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting. His only miss was a corner 3-point attempt in the fourth quarter. Ibaka made a living at the elbow, splashing down seven of his nine field goals from outside the paint.
As good as the Thunder's trio was, OKC would not have won the game without a terrific performance from the bench. Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler each scored 14 points, and Steven Adams grabbed nine rebounds to go with his four points and solid defense. Butler's three 3-pointers all came in the fourth quarter as the Thunder rallied from a 90-86 deficit at the beginning of the quarter to a 102-100 lead with 5:45 to play.
Not to be overlooked was the contribution of Nick Collison. Ibaka picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the game and Collison was forced into action. Collison played 10 minutes, all in the first half, but held down the fort and prevented the Thunder from getting annihilated in the paint by the Clippers' big men.
Blake Griffin turned in his best performance of the series after two subpar games, scoring 34 points and doing everything he could to keep the Clippers in the game. Chris Paul had 21 points and 16 assists while Jamal Crawford had 20 points off the bench, but went 6-of-18 from the field.
Oklahoma City probably should have won by more, thanks to a 55.7 percent shooting clip, but turnovers and second-chance opportunities for the Clippers kept L.A. closer than it should have been. OKC had 14 turnovers which the Clippers turned into 15 points. The Clippers turned the ball over just six times and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, scoring a plethora of second-chance points despite great defense from the Thunder.
The Clippers came out on a mission to get their star post player going. Griffin had 14 points in the first quarter after scoring just 15 points in all of Game 2. OKC overcame the initial Griffin blitz, and the two teams battled back and forth the remainder of the first half. Late in the second quarter, Durant and Paul exchanged words, leading to the first double technical of the night. Paul's deep 3-pointer with five seconds left gave L.A. a 63-61 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Thunder seized control thanks to Ibaka's silky smooth jump shot. However, later in the period, Kendrick Perkins and Matt Barnes got in each other's faces after a hard foul, leading to more technical fouls. The Thunder then closed the quarter very poorly, as Jackson fouled Paul on a 3-point attempt and then picked up a technical of his own to boot. Durant then committed a terrible foul of his own, fouling Crawford on a halfcourt attempt with 0.3 seconds left in the period. The Clippers hit 6-of-7 from the free throw line to take a four-point lead into the final frame.
Oklahoma City has a lot of momentum going into Sunday afternoon's Game 4. The Staples Center is not a very hostile place to play and if the Thunder duplicates Friday night's showing, it could have a chance to close out the series early next week. But with how much these two teams dislike each other, it probably won't be that easy.