By Randy Renner
For the third time in the last four years the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading to the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs and for the second time they will face the San Antonio Spurs.
Last night in Los Angeles the Thunder powered past the Clippers 104-98 behind a superb effort from Kevin Durant and his teammates.
Durant grabbed the headlines with another MVP performance, leading all scorers with 39 points and all rebounders with 16. Durant also had five assists and a couple of blocks. He hit five 3-pointers and was perfect (10-for-10) at the free throw line.
Durant got off to a very slow start, missing six of his first seven shots. He was blistering hot though in the second half, going 8-for-11 and scoring 25 of those 39 points.
Russell Westbrook started cold and never did heat up from the field, finishing just 4- for-15. But as usual Westbrook found plenty of other ways to make life miserable for the opponent. He dished out 12 assists, grabbed a couple of steals and was clutch (11-for-12) at the free throw line.
The Thunder also got great effort and production from the bench, especially rookie center Steven Adams who had to play a career-high 40 minutes last night, mostly because of an injury to Serge Ibaka.
Adams made the most of his opportunity, scoring 10 points and pulling down 11 critical rebounds. He also blocked a shot and forced a steal. The Thunder bench outscored the Clipper bench 35-17. Reggie Jackson came up big again with 14 points.
It didn't look good though in the beginning, the Clippers got off to a fast start, leading 30-16 at the end of the first quarter. Durant and Westbrook were a combined 1-for-11 at that juncture and the Thunder had turned it over six times.
But in the second half the Thunder turned everything around, outscoring the Clippers 62-48 on 60 percent shooting as KD and Russ combined for 42 points. The Clippers were held to just 40.7 percent shooting overall and an anemic 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) from beyond the arc.
The only cloud getting in the way is the health of Ibaka. He appeared to have strained his left calf and limped to the lockerroom in the third quarter. He was not able to return to the game and when the Thunder team charter arrived back in Oklahoma City early this morning Ibaka was spotted wearing a walking boot. He's expected to have an MRI later today and his status going forward is uncertain.
Ibaka's injury situation is just the latest in the series of challenges the Thunder have had to face since the last time they appeared in the Conference Finals.
The Thunder have attacked each of those challenges, looking at them instead as opportunities. So far this season, they've made the most of them.
The next challenge/opportunity comes Monday night in San Antonio when the Thunder will tipoff the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs. Game 2 will be Wednesday night and the Thunder won't play at home until a week from Sunday in Game 3, Game 4 will be Tuesday night.