LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave three of his starters the night off, but the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t able to rest until the final buzzer.
Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Steven Adams had the go-ahead tip-in with 26.9 seconds remaining, and the host Thunder escaped with a 119-117 victory over the depleted Clippers on Thursday.
The feisty Clippers played without stars Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan but backups Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford gave the Thunder all they could handle before OKC came away with their ninth win in the last 10 games.
“It’s hard to play those guys because they have nothing to lose and they’re loose and free,” said Durant, who was rested the previous game. “Rivers made seven threes and Crawford couldn’t miss.
“It was a weird game to play in. I’m glad we got the win.”
Russell Westbrook had 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Thunder (53-23), which moved 5-and-a-half games ahead of the Clippers for the third seed in the West Conference play-off race.
Rivers and Crawford poured in 32 points apiece and combined for 12 triples but it wasn’t enough as the Clippers’ (47-28) four-game winning run came to an end.
“I told the guys before the game we were resting those guys (Paul, Jordan and Redick), not the whole team,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re coming to win the game and we expect to win the game.
“I thought our guys did a great job of competing. I was happy but no moral victories.”
Crawford gave his team-mates a pep talk before the game and it almost worked.
“I told the guys before we went out there, nobody in the world is giving us a chance, we’re not going to be shocked,” he said. “Let’s do it, let’s go for it.”
In an entertaining shoot-out, the Clippers led 115-110 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Wesley Johnson and Jeff Green with 4:20 remaining.
The Thunder squared it on two Durant free throws and a Westbrook triple to ignite a 9-2 closing run.
Rivers and Westbrook traded baskets before Adams tipped in Westbrook’s missed jumper for the eventual winning score.
“Just got lucky, mate,” said Adams, who finished with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
With a shot to tie, Rivers received the ball out of timeout and drove the lane but his layup attempt was too strong off the glass. Westbrook grabbed the rebound with 2.7 ticks left and the Thunder survived.
“Steven made a huge play,” Durant said. “We struggled all night to get stops but we got them when we needed them.”
• Cleveland Cavaliers 107, Brooklyn Nets 87: LeBron James scored 24 points to move past Dominique Wilkins for 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and the Cavaliers sent the lowly Nets to their eighth straight road loss. James has 26,689 points and is likely to pass Oscar Robertson, who ranks 11th with 26,710. Kevin Love added 19 points for the Cavs (53-22), who moved 2 ½ games ahead of idle Toronto for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Thaddeus Young netted 18 points for the Nets (21-53), who rested top scorer Brook Lopez.
• Chicago Bulls 103, Houston Rockets 100: Montenegro’s Nikola Mirotic dropped in 28 points, Jimmy Butler added 21, and the visiting Bulls beat the Rockets when Trevor Ariza’s potential game-tying triple rimmed out at the buzzer. The Bulls (38-37) wiped out a 14-point second half deficit to move within a game of Indiana for the final play-off spot in the East.
The Rockets (37-39), meanwhile, fell a half game behind Utah and Dallas, tied for the seventh and eighth seeds in the West. James Harden had 24 points and Patrick Beverley added a career-high 22 for Houston, which received 20 and 11 rebounds from backup Michael Beasley.
• Portland Trail Blazers 116, Boston Celtics 109: Al-Farouq Aminu fired in six triples en route to 28 points - both career-highs - and Trail Blazers ran their season-high home winning streak to six after bouncing the Celtics. CJ McCollum added 17 points for Portland (40-31), which holds down the sixth seed in the Western Conference play-off scramble. Isaiah Thomas had 22 points to pace the Celtics (43-32), who got forward Jae Crowder back after missing the last eight games with an ankle sprain. Orlando Magic 114, Indiana Pacers 94: Frenchman Evan Fournier scored 25 points, Nikola Vucevic had helping the Magic (32-43) snap a seven-game slide to the host Pacers with their third straight win. Paul George scored 27 points for Indiana (39-36), which dropped to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference play-off chase.
• New Orleans Pelicans 101, Denver Nuggets 95: Luke Babbitt scored 22 points, Toney Douglas had 20 with 10 assists, leading the injury-riddled Pelicans (28-47) past the visiting Nuggets in a game without any play-off implications. Darrell Arthur topped Denver (32-45), with a career-high-tying 24 points off the bench.
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