After being thoroughly outplayed for over 40 minutes, the Los Angeles Clippers fought back.
Leading the way was a player not known for coming up big in the clutch.
Darren Collison scored eight of his 18 points in the final 2:58, rallying the Clippers past the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99 on Sunday to tie the Western Conference semifinal series 2-2.
“Even though we didn’t play well throughout the game, we were able to get a win,” Collison said. “That feels more impressive than anything we did.”
Russell Westbrook, who scored 27 points, missed a 3-pointer and Serge Ibaka’s tip attempt was too late at the buzzer, allowing the Clippers to salvage a game they trailed until the final 1:23.
“It was a good look,” Westbrook said. “Just didn’t go in.”
Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 25 points, making 9 of 11 free throws. Jamal Crawford added 18 points. DeAndre Jordan had 14 rebounds, helping the Clippers win the boards, 45-43 — the first time in 11 playoff games the Thunder were outrebounded.
“We just willed this one. We found a way,” said Chris Paul, who had 23 points and 10 assists.
Kevin Durant scored 40 points, hitting 15 of 18 free throws, for the Thunder.
“We let this one slip away,” he said. “We could have took control of the series.”
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
“We were almost on the mat and we got off of it. We didn’t get pinned,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re seething right now. They had an opportunity to go up 3-1 and now it’s an even series.”
It was the 14th comeback — and largest yet — by the Clippers this season after trailing by double digits. They rallied from 12 points down in the second quarter of Game 7 to oust Golden State in the first round.
“This is one of the best ones yet,” Paul said. “Darren Collison was amazing. You just got to love a guy like that who plays with so much heart and never gives up.”
The Clippers had no answer for Durant and Westbrook until midway through the fourth quarter. That dynamic duo drove the lane with abandon, drew fouls and made free throws in leading the Thunder to an early 22-point lead.
Durant’s three-point play early in the fourth extended the Thunder’s lead to 15 points, and they were still up by 10 with 7:44 to go.
But the comeback Clippers were not to be denied.
“Everybody kept telling each other, ‘Chip away, chip away,’ ” Griffin said. “That was kind of our mentality for the rest of the game. We just kept fighting.”
The Clippers stole a page out of the Thunder’s playbook, switching to a smaller lineup that included Collison and Danny Granger, who helped disrupt the Thunder’s rebounding late.
Paul willed his team back into it, scoring six straight points to get the Clippers within six. Griffin, who was saddled with five fouls, made three of four free throws before Collison got hot.
“The whole time I’m thinking, ‘We can’t be down 3-1, we just can’t be down 3-1 going to Oklahoma,’ ” Collison said.
With the game tied at 97, Collison scored the Clippers’ final four points on layups. Crawford passed to a streaking Collison for a fast-break conversion on the second one for a 101-97 lead with 32 seconds left. Westbrook scored for the Thunder, but after Griffin missed, Westbrook did too to end the game.
“Did that really just happen?” a still stunned Crawford said.
Paul missed all five of his shots in the third, when Griffin picked up three fouls to give him five, and Crawford and Jordan each got their third.
Ibaka, who shot 9 of 10 in the Thunder’s Game 3 win, got his fourth foul, along with Westbrook in the third. The Clippers came as close as eight points before Reggie Jackson’s 3-pointer beat the shot clock to keep the Thunder ahead 75-63 going into the fourth.
The Thunder had the Clippers on their heels from the opening tip, with Oklahoma City shooting 65 percent in building a 22-point lead.
Oklahoma City outscored the Clippers 32-15 in the first; the fewest points they’ve allowed in a quarter of a playoff game.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who banned Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million after recordings of him making racist comments surfaced, attended the game, sitting next to Magic Johnson. Johnson tweeted on April 26 that he would never go to a Clippers game again while Sterling remains the owner. … Johnson and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. have each made noises about being interested in owning the Clippers. … Dick Parsons, whom Silver appointed as interim CEO of the Clippers, will be in town Monday. … Among the celebs were Rihanna, Justin Bieber (who got booed), Billy Crystal, Mark Wahlberg, former Clipper Baron Davis wearing a Dodgers hat and Kenny Lofton.
SOURCE: The Associated Press