Oklahoma City fended off a furious rally from the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday for a hard-fought, physical victory in the Staples Center.
The Thunder saw its 19-point third-quarter lead evaporate into a one-point deficit with 1:30 left in the game but Russell Westbrook took over late to lead OKC to a 108-104 win to sweep the season series against the Clippers.
With OKC leading by 12 with eight minutes remaining, the Clippers went on a 10-0 run in just two minutes to cut the lead to 87-85. After and period of back-and-forth scoring, Westbrook sparked a small run to give the Thunder a six-point lead with under 2:30 to play.
And then things got testy – literally.
Matt Barnes sank a corner 3 to pull Los Angeles within three but, when the shot was in the air, Serge Ibaka took a cheap shot by chopping Blake Griffin in the groin. After an official review, Ibaka was hit with a flagrant one foul giving the Clippers two free throws and possession.
Griffin sank one of his two attempts from the stripe before a wild sequence on the ensuing possession ended with a Jamal Crawford 3-pointer to tie the game. The Clippers managed to turn a six-point deficit into a one-point lead in essentially one possession because of Ibaka's intentional foul.
It also marked LA's first lead of the game, putting all the momentum fully in the Clips' corner with time winding down.
But Westbrook wouldn't be denied and Ibaka tried his hardest to make up for his uncharacteristic mistake.
Immediately after Crawford's 3-pointer, Westbrook exploded down the floor for an acrobatic layup that gave the Thunder the lead back just six seconds after it was wiped away. After Sefolosha drew a foul on Griffin on the other end, Westbrook again put LA's defense in a hard spot, drawing in the defenders until he found a cutting Ibaka for an and-one finish that swelled the lead to 104-100 with 59 seconds to play.
Crawford sank two freebies to make it a two-point game but the Thunder effectively iced the game on the following possession.
Durant dribbled around at the top of the key, giving the appearance that the Thunder was going to again settle for a KD pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock. But instead, Durant cut to his left and found an open Westbrook for a 16-foot jumper that ripped through the net and Westbrook held the pose to let the Staples Center crowd know it was over.
Ibaka then responded again by sending a Matt Barnes' layup attempt into the stands with seven seconds remaining to really put the finishing touches on the team's third win over the Clippers in three tries this season.
Durant led all scorers with 35 points on 10-of-25 shooting and 12-of-15 from the line. It was an oddly poor day from the stripe for the league's best free-throw shooting team, as the Thunder (43-16) finished just 25-of-34 (73.5 percent) from the line. KD also added nine rebounds and four assists.
Westbrook continued his stellar play as of late with 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting and also added 10 assists against just three turnovers.
Ibaka finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting but struggled with just three rebounds in his physical battle with Griffin in the post, ultimately leading to the cheap shot as a result of the frustration.
Kevin Martin was the only other Thunder player in double figures with 10 points but he really struggled to find his shot on Sunday, finishing just 3-of-12 from the floor.
Chris Paul led the Clippers (43-19) with 26 points and Griffin added 20 points and nine boards. Crawford scored 20 off the bench and connected on 4-of-5 3-point opportunities.
The victory was an important one for Oklahoma City, which is in the midst of a tough stretch. The Thunder hosts the improving Lakers on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. before heading to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks on Thursday.