LOS ANGELES – When the Oklahoma City Thunder were down by 16 points and struggling to make any shot early in Game 6, they looked all but ready to fold up and head home for a series-deciding finale.
Instead, Kevin Durant shouldered the Thunder and carried them into the fourth quarter, where they demonstrated the poise of a championship contender.
Durant had 39 points and 16 rebounds, and Oklahoma City advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 104-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Russell Westbrook overcame a slow start to finish with 19 points and 12 assists as the Thunder reached the conference finals for the third time in four years, closing out Los Angeles with two straight wins.
Two days after Oklahoma City erased a late 13-point deficit to win Game 5, the Thunder rallied from that early deficit and maintained their lead throughout the fourth quarter, shaking off any memories of their Game 4 collapse on the same Staples Center court.
“Experience has helped us out a lot, just being with each other for so long,” Durant said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. We definitely can get better. This is definitely a series that pushed us to the brink. We were in a tough spot. We stayed together and persevered.”
The league MVP hit five 3-pointers and Reggie Jackson added 14 points for Oklahoma City, which will face the Spurs in a rematch of the West’s last two champions. The series begins Monday night in San Antonio.
Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, and Blake Griffin had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out as the Clippers’ exhausting postseason ended in disappointment. Pacers 93, Wizards 80
In Washington, David West scored 29 points and Indiana blew a 16-point second-half lead before pulling away late in a win that ousted the Wizards in six games.
Next up for the Pacers is a rematch with the Miami Heat.
Lance Stephenson added 17 points and eight assists for Indiana, which earned a Game 1 at home against the two-time defending NBA champions on Sunday. Indiana took Miami to seven games in the conference finals a year ago.
“We’ve been through it all this season,” Stephenson said. “And I feel like everything that we went through made us stronger.”
Marcin Gortat scored 19 points, and John Wall had 12 points and nine assists for the Wizards, who ended their best playoff run in decades.
Washington won a playoff series for the first time since 2005 and a second-round game for the first time since 1982.
“I think we all felt we had an opportunity here to do more than we did, and that’s a good feeling for those guys,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “They’re hurting in there, and when you hurt, that means you care.”