With Paul absent, Durant guides Thunder past Clippers

Jon Gold, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- It was billed as a meeting of two giants at Staples Center on Tuesday night, a matchup between a pair of titans duking it out for the NBA's best record.
However, one giant was missing a leg.
Kevin Durant had 32 points, seven assists and seven rebounds to lead the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to a 109-97 win over the Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
Paul missed his fourth game in two weeks with a bruised right kneecap. Los Angeles went 3-0 in its previous matchups without Paul, but those contests weren't against Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant took over a close game in the third quarter, scoring 11 points as the Thunder (33-9) took a commanding lead. Oklahoma City led 49-45 at the half but increased to its advantage to as much as 16 while shooting 75 percent from the field in the third.
"I couldn't find a shot early on, they were playing such great defense," Durant said. "They were making me see multiple guys -- I just tried to take what the defense was giving me and be aggressive. My shots weren't falling, but the guys were grabbing offensive rebounds, kicking it out for three, and that got me going."
Added Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro: "I didn't think we had a very efficient game on the defensive end for sure, and I thought we were a little stagnant offensively at times. Obviously we didn't have our general there, but that's no excuse."
Westbrook had 26 points, six assists and four rebounds, and he held Los Angeles guard Eric Bledsoe, who started in Paul's absence, to 5-of-16 shooting and 12 points.
Serge Ibaka had 17 points -- including nine in third quarter -- and nine rebounds, and Kevin Martin added 13 points and for the Thunder, who shot 15-for-27 from 3-point range.
"You can't go into the game expecting that or hoping that," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "We just shot the ball well. I just give our guys credit. ... We were spreading the floor and our guys were doing a good job of finding open shooters. And we were knocking them down -- 15 threes, that doesn't happen often for any team in this league."
Added Westbrook: "Guys made some big shots. Guys made the right plays in the second half, and we did good job of just knocking down shots."
The other half of the Clippers' terrific twosome -- forward Blake Griffin -- thrived without his running mate but got little support from the rest of Los Angeles' starting lineup.
Griffin had 31 points, 11 rebounds and five assists while shooting 11-for-19 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. The Clippers' other four starters totaled 28 points on 11-of-26 shooting. Jamal Crawford added 14 points off the bench but shot 6-for-18 from the field for Los Angeles (32-11).
"We did a good job of just taking them out of the game," Westbrook said. "If they get involved, if the crowd gets involved, it's tough to beat them here."
NOTES: The Clippers have signed a 10-year extension of their Staples Center lease, the team announced Tuesday. The agreement keeps the Clippers, who started playing in the arena in 1999 along with the Los Angeles Lakers, there through June 2024. ... In addition to Paul, Chauncey Billups (left foot peroneal tendinitis) and Trey Thompkins (left knee bone bruise) missed the game for the Clippers. ... Oklahoma City won the first matchup of the season between the two teams, 117-111 in overtime on Nov. 21. ... Martin and Crawford rank among the best reserves in the NBA in several categories; Martin ranks third in the NBA in bench minutes (30.0 per game) and points (15 ppg), while Crawford ranks fourth (29.2) and second (16.7) in the same categories. ... Just past the halfway point, the Clippers had the best 42-game record in team history by a six-win margin.