Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul guards Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook in the first quarter of the game at Staples Center.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Blake Griffin scored 23 points, making two free throws with five seconds left, Chris Paul added 22 and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 93-90 in their season opener on Thursday night to usher in a new era under owner Steve Ballmer.
Los Angeles hardly resembled its new ad campaign of "Be Relentless" early on, when the Thunder scored the game’s first eight points as Ballmer cupped his hands and yelled to his team from his baseline seat near their bench.
He paid a record $2 billion to buy the team after 33-year owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA for racist remarks. The Thunder sent the Clippers packing in the second round of the playoffs last spring, shortly after the Sterling scandal erupted.
Already without injured Kevin Durant, the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook to a hand injury in the second quarter. Perry Jones scored a career-high 32 points, making 9 of 11 free throws. The Thunder are 0-2, having dropped their opener a night earlier at Portland.
Serge Ibaka’s 3-pointer at the buzzer went off the rim. He finished with 17 points.
Westbrook appeared to hurt his hand while going for a rebound in a crowd. He didn’t return and finished with two points and four assists in eight minutes. He appeared to have a verbal exchange with a fan while exiting through the tunnel.
The Thunder cut the deficit to four points on a 3-pointer by Ibaka with 4 minutes left in the game. J.J. Redick answered with a 3-pointer after missing his first seven shots to extend the Clippers’ lead to 89-82.
During a timeout, the video board flashed to Ballmer, his face contorted and his hands clapping furiously as fans cheered. In wrinkled khaki pants and a checked shirt, and his credential hung around his neck, Ballmer looked like an average fan.
Ibaka and Sebastian Telfair hit consecutive 3-pointers to draw the Thunder within one with 1:44 to play.
Redick missed a pair of 3-pointers before Steven Adams committed the Thunder’s 27th turnover. Telfair fouled Paul, who missed both free throws with 13 seconds to go.
Telfair forced up an out-of-control shot that missed and Adams fouled Griffin in a scramble for the ball with 5 seconds left. Griffin hit both free throws, which the Clippers needed because Nick Collison got fouled and made both to cut it to 91-90 with 4 seconds to go.
Griffin fouled out after he and Ibaka were called for double fouls. Redick made up for his earlier misses when he went to the line and hit both free throws for a 93-90 lead with 2 seconds left.
Oklahoma City briefly led by one point in the third — when it was limited to five field goals — only to see the Clippers close with another rush, ending on a 15-6 run that sent them into the fourth leading 70-62.
Sterling’s estranged wife Shelly was in her usual midcourt seat. She retained it, along with some other perks, and was given the title of "owner emeritus" by Ballmer as part of the sale. New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who banned Donald Sterling, was applauded when he was introduced after the first quarter.
The Clippers led 46-41 at halftime despite shooting 16 of 42 from the floor. They took their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Crawford that was part of a 20-8 run to close the half.
Oklahoma City’s early lead took the home crowd out of it moments after the pregame hype ended. Before the Clippers were introduced, they stood watching a video that proclaimed it a new time in franchise history.