Clippers 98, Thunder 92
Blake Griffin never holds anything back. He's always crashing to the court, trying for every little advantage. And knowing this game was being televised back to his hometown of Oklahoma City, he turned his game up several notches.
Griffin must have hit the deck at least 20 times during his 26-point and 16-rebound effort, and Eric Gordon's 3-pointer with 43.2 seconds left capped an 18-point effort for the Los Angeles Clippers in a 98-92 victory over the Thunder on Saturday night.
''He really was after it,'' Gordon said after the Clippers' 30th victory. ''I mean, you know it when he's really active and animated when he gets a defensive rebound and goes all the way down the court and tries to score a basket.''
Griffin, who played at Oklahoma and was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, averaged 24 points and 13 rebounds in his three games against the Thunder.
''We just stepped it up defensively and stayed aggressive at the offensive end,'' Griffin said. ''It's a great win, but it's only 30 wins. We have to do a better job closing out games and making sure we win a lot of them - not just getting up to win certain games.''
Kevin Durant scored 23 points for the Thunder, shooting 10 for 24 overall and 0 for 4 from 3-point range. The last time the Clippers hosted the Thunder, they beat them 107-92 on Nov. 3 for the only victory in their 1-13 start. Durant was 0 for 10 from behind the arc that night and 6 for 24 overall with a season-low 16 points.
The Thunder have lost their first two games this month, equaling their entire total for March, when they were 14-2. The lead changed hands 10 times in the fourth quarter before Gordon drained his clutch 27-footer over Thabo Sefolosha from an angle to the left of the basket following a timeout.
''It's always good to knock down a 3 like that when it's a tie game,'' said Gordon, who scored a career-high 41 points against Oklahoma City on Jan. 23, 2009. ''It's good for us because we hadn't won too many games where we've been down in the fourth quarter. So it was good to see us fight back and grow as a team.''
Randy Foye helped secure the victory with a steal against Russell Westbrook, which Foye turned into a pair of free throws after getting fouled on the ensuing fast break. Westbrook, who played at UCLA, had nine points and eight assists before fouling out with 37 seconds to go.
The technical fouls were flying during the third quarter, as referees Joey Crawford, Sean Wright and Marat Kogut combined to call six of them during a heated and trash-talking 3:40 span in which the Clippers erased a 12-point deficit and tied it at 59 on Griffin's layup with 3:45 left in the period.
Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins received a technical just 4 seconds before Westbrook and coach Scott Brooks each got one simultaneously, following an offensive foul that resulted in Westbrook's fourth personal with 6:24 left in the third and led to a pair of free throws by Mo Williams.
''I think we were the more physical team,'' Durant said. ''But techs are something that just can't happen. We can't afford to just give them points like that. I think the way things were going, and the way they were on their way back, those techs just pushed them over the top.''
About 3 1/2 minutes later, Griffin and Nick Collison got into a verbal exchange near midcourt, resulting in a double-technical with 2:59 left in the quarter, and Nazr Mohammed was hit with the sixth technical after grabbing Griffin around the midsection as the pride of Oklahoma drove for a layup following a whistle.
''The game got real physical,'' Gordon said. ''It didn't feel like anything went our way in the first half and early in the third quarter. But we kept on playing physical, just like they were. They didn't feel like a couple of calls went their way. I wouldn't say they were frustrated, but we got some tech opportunities.''
The Thunder came out of the blocks with a 15-4 run and led 49-37 at intermission, as the Clippers matched a season low for an Oklahoma City opponent in the first half. Milwaukee had 37 points against the Thunder before in the first 24 minutes on Nov. 20, losing 82-81.
Clippers center Chris Kaman missed his second straight game because of a viral infection. Forward Ryan Gomes missed his first game of the season because of a sore knee. Gomes, one of three Clippers to play in each of the first 76 games along with Griffin and rookie Eric Bledsoe, is second on the team in minutes played behind Griffin.
NOTES: Griffin was 12 for 18 on free throws. He is shooting 72.4 percent from the line over his last 25 games, compared to 60.9 percent in his first 52 NBA contests. ... Bledsoe had more than a casual interest in Kentucky's one-point loss to Connecticut in the Final Four in Houston on Saturday night. He left the Wildcats after his freshman season to enter the NBA draft along with teammates John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton. All five were selected in the first round - Bledsoe 18th overall by the Thunder, who traded him to the Clippers on draft day for a future first-round pick. ... Four of the Clippers' final five games are on the road, including a rematch with the Thunder next Wednesday.