The streaking Los Angeles Clippers knocked Oklahoma City out of first place in the West with a forceful 92-77 victory on Monday that earned the hosts a first playoff berth in six years.
Nick Young led a balanced attack with 19 points off the bench, while Blake Griffin added 17 and 11 rebounds as the Clippers overwhelmed the visiting Thunder in the second half to reach the post-season for the first time since the 2005-2006 campaign.
“It feels great, especially to do it against one of the top teams in the league,” Young told reporters. “I was too excited [after the game]. I ran to the back and was slapping hands with everyone.”
Winners in 12 of their past 14 games, the Clippers (38-23) also have a shot at their first ever division title, trailing the Lakers by a game in the Pacific Division, and for third in the West.
The Thunder (44-17), meanwhile, slipped percentage points behind San Antonio in their see-saw tussle for the top seed in the conference.
Kevin Durant had a team-high 24 points for Oklahoma City, who built a nine-point halftime lead, before being outscored 49-25 in the second half.
It was their second defeat at the hands of the Clippers in less than a week following a two-point loss on Wednesday last week.
In the latest showdown, Los Angeles scored the game’s first basket and did not lead again until the fourth quarter, and as the Clippers warmed up to pull away, the Thunder suddenly went cold and shot just 37 percent on the night.
All-Star Russell Westbrook had a particularly off game, finishing with just nine points.
Chris Paul tallied 12 and 10 assists.
His arrival to the Clippers through an off-season trade, combined with the team’s other roster moves, signaled new promise for a franchise that has endured too many losing seasons.
“It means a lot for us [to make the playoffs], but we can’t be complacent, we have to keep pushing forward and want more,” Griffin said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
JAZZ 123, MAVERICKS 121
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Al Jefferson scored 28 and equaled a career-high with 26 rebounds as the Utah Jazz defeated Dallas in triple-overtime to halt a seven-game losing streak against the Mavericks and preserve their slim playoff hopes.
Utah began the day 10th in the Western Conference, but they pulled a half game behind Phoenix and Houston for the eighth and final spot with four games remaining.
The loss dropped Dallas to seventh in the West, a half game behind Denver.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points against Utah for the second straight time. His three-pointer forced the second overtime, but he could not convert late in the third extra period.
HEAT 101, NETS 98
In Newark, New Jersey, LeBron James scored Miami’s final 17 points in a furious one-man rally, finishing with 37 to lead the Heat past the Nets.
In a game the Heat never led until the final 51 seconds, James willed them to their 10th straight victory over New Jersey. With Dwyane Wade resting, James scored those 17 points in the final 4 minutes, 48 seconds.
Chris Bosh had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Heat, carrying them early in the fourth until James checked back in midway through the period and turned what appeared a certain loss into a stunning victory.
Kris Humphries scored 29 points and MarShon Brooks had 24 for the Nets.
Monday’s other results:
‧ Hornets 75, Bobcats 67
‧ Wizards 87, Bulls 84
‧ Nuggets 105, Rockets 102
‧ Hawks 109, Raptors 87
‧ Pacers 111, Timberwolves 88
‧ Magic 113, 76ers 100
‧ Suns 125, Trail Blazers 107
‧ Spurs 120, Warriors 99