The Thunder are on the verge of wrapping up their first division title since moving to Oklahoma City.
The Los Angeles Clippers are merely on the verge of wrapping up a losing season, but they’re playing a spoiler’s role quite effectively.
Oklahoma City (51-26) all but wrapped up the Northwest Division title and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday by parlaying a 16-0 third-quarter run into a 101-94 victory at Denver. Kevin Durant(notes) scored 32 points, Russell Westbrook(notes) added 18 and James Harden(notes) chipped in 13 for the Thunder, who lead the second-place Nuggets by four games with five to play as they close in on their first division crown since 2004-05, when they were the Seattle SuperSonics.
“Almost is not good until you get it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, whose team avoided a three-game losing streak.
That Northwest title would be even more certain if the Thunder had been able to beat the Clippers (31-47) in Los Angeles on Saturday. Instead, they lost to the Clippers at Staples Center for the second time in 2010-11, falling 98-92 as Griffin had game highs of 26 points and 16 rebounds.
Playing against his hometown team clearly motivates Griffin, who played college ball at the nearby University of Oklahoma.
“He really was after it,” teammate Ben Gordon(notes) said of Griffin after Saturday’s win. “I mean, you know it when he’s really active and animated when he gets a defensive rebound and goes all the way down the court and tries to score a basket.”
Griffin was similarly on his game in his first pro trip to Oklahoma City, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists Feb. 22. However, he didn’t get nearly enough help from his teammates as the Clippers fell 111-88. The home team has won all three meetings in the season series, two of which took place in Los Angeles.
The Clippers will miss the postseason for the 13th time in 14 years, but don’t look like a team playing out the string right now. They are 10-7 since the start of March, including an 82-81 victory at Memphis on Tuesday, slowing the playoff push of the Grizzlies, currently eighth in the West.