LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers persevered through seven exhausting playoff games over two distressing weeks, and they emerged from all the tumult with their championship dreams intact.
Blake Griffin scored 24 points, Chris Paul had 22 points and 14 assists, and the Clippers outlasted the Golden State Warriors 126-121 in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their thrilling first-round playoff series.
Jamal Crawford scored 22 points for the third-seeded Clippers, who earned the franchise’s third playoff series win in 38 years after overcoming a daunting stretch of challenges. Less than a week after dumping their team warmup jerseys at center court in a pregame gesture of defiance against team owner Donald Sterling, the Clippers celebrated a cathartic win.
“I just thought, with all this stuff, this team just needed this win,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “This was a hard week. It feels like two months. We just needed to be able to smile and laugh and cheer. I was very proud of my players.”
Sterling was banned for life from the NBA on Tuesday after a recording of racist comments by the 80-year-old billionaire was made public last week. The Clippers endured sleepless nights, constant public scrutiny and a failed attempt to close out the series in Game 6 before they finally hung on to beat Golden State.
At the final buzzer, Rivers high-fived fans and team employees while the Clippers shared joyous hugs in front of a raucous crowd.
Sterling’s long-estranged wife, Rochelle, also cheered and clapped from the back of the lower bowl of Staples Center as Los Angeles advanced to a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who eliminated Memphis earlier Saturday. The Clippers’ second-round series opener is Monday night in Oklahoma City.
“It just showed our will, our fight,” said Paul, who is struggling with a strained hamstring. “More so than going through (the distractions), it was about getting through tonight.”
Stephen Curry had 33 points and nine assists, but Golden State blew a late lead in Game 7. Draymond Green scored 24 points for the Warriors, who lost their first Game 7 since 1977 and failed to advance in consecutive postseasons for the first time since that same year.
“It’s disappointing, but we battled and we competed,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “And we took a team that had everyone (healthy) to Game 7.”
An exhausting series ended with one last well-played game between the California powers, who traded the lead throughout the second half. Los Angeles couldn’t seize control of the first home Game 7 in franchise history until the final minutes — and the Clippers did it with Lob City.
Griffin put the Clippers ahead for good by muscling home a layup with 2:11 left, and DeAndre Jordan blocked Curry’s layup attempt to set up a fast break, leading to J.J. Redick’s lob to Griffin for a thunderous slam.
Jordan added a dunk on an offensive rebound, and Griffin spun in the air and threw home a layup while getting fouled with 56 seconds left for a 116-111 lead.
Curry hit three free throws with 30 seconds left, and Green hit a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 120-118. But Redick hit two more free throws to essentially ice it.
Redick scored 20 points for the Clippers, and Jordan had 15 points and 18 rebounds in a stellar low-post performance for the two-time Pacific Division champions.
Klay Thompson managed just 15 points for the Warriors, failing to make a shot in the fourth quarter. Curry had just three field goals in the second half.
“I thought it was a hard-fought series that everyone in the organization should be proud of,” Jackson said. “We all went through it. The statements that were made were made to all of us. … We did a good job handling what could go down as the toughest moment in league history, as far as what we had to go through.”
The game could have been the last for Jackson, who might be on shaky ground with Warriors ownership despite presiding over the long-struggling franchise’s best two-year stretch in two decades.
“I don’t get caught up in it,” Jackson said. “I’m totally confident, and I have total faith that I’m going to be fine.”
THUNDER 120, GRIZZLIES 109
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 33 points, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, and Oklahoma City beat Memphis in Game 7 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
Westbrook had 27 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds. It was Westbrook’s second triple-double in the past three games. He made 10 of 16 shots from the field, both of his 3-pointers and five of his six free throws. His assist total tied the franchise record for a playoff game set in 1987 by Nate McMillan when the team was still in Seattle.The gritty Grizzlies, playing without leading scorer Zach Randolph because of a suspension, led by 11 points in the first half before the Thunder overwhelmed them and shot 66 percent after the break.
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 24 points. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had 20 points and nine assists while playing with a strained right hamstring.
PACERS 92, HAWKS 80
INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George scored a playoff career-high 30 points and Roy Hibbert finally came up big to lead Indiana past Atlanta in Game 7.
Indiana staved off elimination for the second time in three days. It’s the first time since mid-March the Pacers’ regular starters have won back-to-back games.
Instead of becoming the sixth top seed to lose in the first round of the current 16-team playoff format, the Pacers will be back on their home floor Monday night against Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Kyle Korver scored 19 points and Jeff Teague had 16 for Atlanta, which won just 38 games in the regular season but proved to be a tough opponent for the Pacers.
By wire sources