BASKETBALL

Thunder roll into semi-finals after big rally against Clippers

Oklahama City face Spurs in their third semi-final in four years after gritty performance against an embattled and 'emotional' LA Clippers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2014, 9:55pm
AFP

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Kevin Durant scored 39 points as the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference final with a 104-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in game six of their NBA play-off series.

The Thunder rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to tie the contest on the last play of the third quarter then stepped it up in the fourth to win the second-round series four games to two.

It is not how you start. It is how you finish. I just stuck with it
Kevin Durant

"Tonight's game is something we've done all year," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of their performance in front of a crowd of 19,565 at Staples Centre arena. "We stuck together and found ways to win."

Oklahoma City move on to face top seeded San Antonio Spurs in game one of their best-of-seven series on Monday in Texas. The Spurs had eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

It was a heartbreaking season-ending loss for a Clippers team who have been riding a roller-coaster of emotions, while dealing with the Donald Sterling fiasco for the past month.

League MVP Durant had 16 rebounds and Russell Westbrook struggled early, but still managed 19 points and 12 assists for the Thunder, who reached their third league semi-final in four years.

The Thunder won despite a slow start from Westbrook who did not hit his first field goal until the third quarter.

Durant carried the team on his shoulders like he had done all season long, especially when things looked bad in the first quarter.

"It is not how you start. It is how you finish. I just stuck with it," Durant said.

Guard Reggie Jackson scored 14 points, while New Zealand's Steven Adams came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who also had to overcome a large deficit to win game five.

Backup centre Adams, of Rotorua, had to come into the game early after starter Kendrick Perkins got into foul trouble.

Chris Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists while Blake Griffin scored 22 points for the Clippers, who started strong, but then saw their offence begin to fizzle at the end of the second quarter.

"It was the third quarter that changed the game," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

"We never got our energy back. We came out at the beginning with a lot of emotion and I said to one of my coaches, 'I hope we don't hit a wall'."

Rivers said the problems with their embattled owner Sterling were not the reason they lost the series after coming off their most successful regular season in franchise history.

"We have gone through a lot of stuff in the last three or four weeks. We shouldn't use that as an excuse," Rivers said.

The controversy began last month when the American gossip website TMZ released an audio of Sterling telling his girlfriend that she should not bring black people to Clippers games.

On Thursday, Sports Illustrated reported that Sterling's lawyers had sent a letter to the NBA threatening to sue and telling them he did not plan to pay their US$2.5 million fine.