LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers persevered through seven exhausting playoff games over two distressing weeks, and they emerged from all the tumult with their championship dreams intact.
Blake Griffin scored 24 points, Chris Paul had 22 points and 14 assists, and the Clippers outlasted the Golden State Warriors 126-121 in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their thrilling first-round playoff series.
Jamal Crawford scored 22 points for the third-seeded Clippers, who earned the franchise’s third playoff series win in 38 years after overcoming a daunting stretch of challenges.
Less than a week after dumping their team warmup jerseys at center court in a pregame gesture of defiance against team owner Donald Sterling, the Clippers celebrated a cathartic win.
“I just thought, with all this stuff, this team just needed this win,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “This was a hard week. It feels like two months. We just needed to be able to smile and laugh and cheer. I was very proud of my players.”
Sterling was banned for life from the NBA on Tuesday after a recording of racist comments by the 80-year-old billionaire was made public last week. The Clippers endured sleepless nights, constant public scrutiny and a failed attempt to close out the series in Game 6 before they finally hung on to beat Golden State.
At the final buzzer, Rivers high-fived fans and team employees while the Clippers shared joyous hugs in front of a raucous crowd.
Los Angeles advanced to a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who eliminated Memphis earlier Saturday.
“It just showed our will, our fight,” said Paul, who is struggling with a strained hamstring. “More so than going through (the distractions), it was about getting through tonight.”
Stephen Curry had 33 points and nine assists, but Golden State blew a late lead in Game 7. Draymond Green scored 24 points for the Warriors, who lost their first Game 7 since 1977 and failed to advance in consecutive postseasons for the first time since that same year.
“It’s disappointing, but we battled and we competed,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “And we took a team that had everyone (healthy) to Game 7.”
The game could have been the last for Jackson, who might be on shaky ground with Warriors ownership despite presiding over the long-struggling franchise’s best two-year stretch in two decades.
“I don’t get caught up in it,” Jackson said. “I’m totally confident, and I have total faith that I’m going to be fine.” Thunder 120, Grizzlies 109
In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant scored 33 points, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, and the Thunder beat the Grizzlies in Game 7 of their first-round series.
Durant looked like his usual self after struggling against Memphis’ rugged defense for much of the series. The regular-season scoring champion made 12 of 18 field goals and all five of his 3-pointers after struggling from long range throughout the series.
Westbrook had 27 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds.
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 24 points, and he made 10 of 11 free throws.
Point guard Mike Conley had 20 points and nine assists while playing with a strained right hamstring. Pacers 92, Hawks 80
In Indianapolis, Indiana salvaged its season by reverting to form: its first-half form.
Paul George scored a career playoff-high 30 points, Lance Stephenson added 19 and Roy Hibbert finally came up big against more nimble Atlanta as the Pacers survived a first-round scare with a victory in the decisive seventh game.
Kyle Korver led the Hawks with 19 points and Teague had 16. Paul Millsap added 15 points and 17 rebounds — not enough for Atlanta.