Pacers, Clippers progress to conference finals
WASHINGTON (AP) — Indiana and Oklahoma City clinched series victories on Thursday to advance to a familiar-looking final four teams in the NBA playoffs.
Indiana is back where it was last season — in the NBA Eastern Conference finals — after winning 93-80 at Washington to claim their series 4-2, while Oklahoma City won 104-98 at the Los Angeles Clippers to also win 4-2 and book their third Western Conference finals berth in four years.
Awaiting those two teams are perennial powers Miami and San Antonio.
David West scored 29 points in a see-sawing performance by the Pacers, who blew a 16-point second-half lead before pulling away late.
Next up, a rematch with Miami in the East decider.
Lance Stephenson added 17 points and eight assists for the Pacers, who 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.
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. But the team was ultimately undone by an inability to win at home, going just 1-4 at the Verizon Center and 5-1 on the road in the playoffs.
The Wizards appeared to have fixed their home-court demons when Bradley Beal stole a rebound then hit a 3-pointer at the other end to put the Wizards up 74-73 with 8½ minutes to play.
But that was Washington’s only lead of the second half. West answered with a pair of jumpers, including a tough fade-away, and Stephenson added a layup to start a decisive 20-6 run that included three Wizards turnovers in four possessions. Washington went five minutes without a point and scored only two field goals after Beal’s go-ahead 3.
The Pacers were 46-13 on March 2 before limping to the end of the regular season, barely holding on to the conference’s No. 1 seed. Things didn’t look much better when Indy was pushed to seven games in the first round by eighth-seeded Atlanta, or when the Pacers lost Game 1 at home to the Wizards.
But Hibbert revived himself in Game 2, the defense held the Wizards to 63 points in Game 3, and Paul George went off for 39 points in Game 4. The ugly Pacers returned in a 23-point beatdown at home in Game 5.
But they pulled ahead early in the clincher by shooting 59 percent in the first half and holding the up-tempo Wizards without a fast-break point until the second half.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant had 39 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Thunder to a come-from-behind victory at Los Angeles, ending a tumultuous season for the Clippers.
Russell Westbrook overcame a slow start to finish with 19 points and 12 assists for the Thunder.
Two days after Oklahoma City erased a late 13-point deficit to win Game 5, the Thunder rallied from an early 16-point deficit and maintained their lead throughout the fourth quarter, shaking off any memories of their Game 4 collapse.
Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, and Blake Griffin scored 22 points for the Clippers, who went through the playoffs with the distraction of team owner Donald Sterling being banned by the league and pressured into a sale of the franchise after the publicizing on an audio tape in which he made racially-charged comments.
Durant 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 in San Antonio.
J.J. Redick scored 16 points for the Clippers, who followed their epic collapse in Game 5 with a disappointing second half at home. Despite a raucous home crowd, Los Angeles won’t play for its first trip to a conference finals.
The hosts were in control for most of the first three quarters. But the league MVP Durant kept the Thunder close and eventually ignited a 30-10 run stretching across the final two quarters. Westbrook, who didn’t have a field goal until late in the third quarter, contributed 10 points in the fourth as the Thunder comfortably maintained their lead.
Griffin fouled out with 2:27 left, but the Clippers got within four points in the final minute before Westbrook and Durant hit free throws to close it out.