Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams were like a duo passing the baton on the final leg of a relay Friday night.
The Clippers top scorers staved off a run by the Oklahoma City Thunder by scoring on the final seven possessions down the stretch to pull out a 118-110 win at Staples Center and split the season series with the Thunder .
Their fourth victory in a row moves the Clippers (38-29) into seventh place in the West, and 0.002 percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for sixth. The Thunder (40-26) slide to fourth, a half game behind Houston.
Gallinari finished with 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting and 12-of-15 from the foul line, while Williams tallied a game-high 40 points on 13-for-24 from the field and 10-for-15 from the line. Williams notched 16 points in the final period, preventing an improbable Thunder rally.
The likely Sixth Man of the Year also had five assists to lead the Clippers. However, they were also given quite an assist from Oklahoma City’s foul trouble. All-Stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook spent the night saddled with fouls, including five apiece in the third quarter. They would both foul out along with center Steven Adams.
With Westbrook, who had a team-high 32 points, and George on the bench with five fouls, the Thunder went on a 12-2 run to close the third quarter and shave a 14-point Clippers lead down to four. It was the group of four reserves plus Terrance Ferguson who brought Oklahoma City all the way back as the Clippers uncharacteristically took their foot off the accelerator.
Williams helped quell the run and was instrumental in keeping the Clippers afloat when seemingly everything had started turning Oklahoma City’s direction. The Thunder’s vaunted defense, which has stumbled of late as they’ve lost five of six on the road, churned out multiple stops and earned four-straight shots to take the lead or tie.
But as he has all season, Williams played his best in the biggest moments, answering a Westbrook and-1 with an airy jumper in the lane to pull the Clippers ahead by three. Westbrook would be disqualified two possessions later after being whistled for an offensive foul.
Williams and Gallinari salted the victory away with six-straight free throws. Overall, the Clippers were 31-of-46 from the line with Oklahoma City committing 34 fouls.
While fouls and a clearly fatigued Thunder lineup played a role in the victory, Patrick Beverley again provided a defensive presence on a Western Conference All-Star starter that stood several inches taller than him. Beverley hounded George throughout the night, forced him into uncomfortable positions on the floor, and caused one of the least efficient nights of the season for George. The Thunder star shot 5-of-16 from the field, committed five turnovers, and fouled out with 3:49 to go when Beverley drew an offensive foul.
Westbrook and Montrezl Harrell picked up double-technical fouls in the first quarter. Westbrook has 15 techs on the season, one away from a league-mandated one-game suspension… The Clippers outrebounded the Thunder, 53-52… The Clippers committed just 10 turnovers against the league’s leading defense in steals and forced turnovers. In their previous two meetings with Oklahoma City (both losses) the Clippers committed 50 combined turnovers… They are 21-9 in the 30 games they’ve committed 12 turnovers or fewer.
THEY GOT NEXT
The Clippers play the second game of a tough three-game against Boston on Monday at Staples Center. It’s the first night of a back-to-back with Tuesday’s game coming against the Blazers. The Celtics, however, will play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Saturday, meaning they get a Saturday and Sunday night in the undefeated nightlife before playing the Clippers.