LOS ANGELES — When the Oklahoma City Thunder was down by 16 points and struggling to make any shot early in Game 6, it looked all but ready to fold up and head home for a series-deciding finale.
Instead, Kevin Durant shouldered the Thunder and carried it into the fourth quarter, where it demonstrated the poise of a championship contender.
Durant had 39 points and 16 rebounds, and Oklahoma City advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 104-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Russell Westbrook overcame a slow start to finish with 19 points and 12 assists as the Thunder reached the conference finals for the third time in four years, closing out Los Angeles with two straight wins.
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Two days after the Thunder erased a late 13-point deficit to win Game 5, the Thunder rallied from that early deficit and maintained its lead throughout the fourth quarter, shaking off any memories of its Game 4 collapse on the same Staples Center court.
“Experience has helped us out a lot, just being with each other for so long,” Durant said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. We definitely can get better. This is definitely a series that pushed us to the brink. We were in a tough spot. We stayed together and persevered.”
The league MVP hit five three-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 night in San Antonio.
Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, and Blake Griffin had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out as the Clippers’ exhausting postseason ended in disappointment.
Perhaps the cumulative pressure of two playoff series amid the distractions of owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban finally cost the two-time Pacific Division champion Clippers, who couldn’t keep up late.
Or perhaps Durant is just that good.
“We did a great job of sticking together,” Westbrook said. “Kevin did a great job of setting his guys up, getting the ball in spots that were effective.”
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 make its first trip to the conference finals after the best regular season in franchise history.
WASHINGTON — For all their mysterious slumps and chemistry curiosities, the Indiana Pacers are back where they were last season — in the Eastern Conference finals.
David West scored 29 points and the Pacers blew a 16-point second-half lead before pulling away late in a 93-80 win that ousted the Washington Wizards in six games.
Next up, a rematch with the Miami Heat.
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 Sunday. Indiana took Miami to seven games in the conference finals a year ago.
“We’ve been through it all this season,” Stephenson said. “And I feel like everything that we went through made us stronger.”
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 1-4 at the Verizon Center and 5-1 on the road in the playoffs.
• San Antonio point guard Tony Parker has a Grade 1 strain of his left hamstring, the least severe level of the injury, and he is listed as day to day, the Spurs say.
• The NBA fined Clippers coach Doc Rivers $25,000 for publicly criticizing the officiating in Los Angeles’ 105-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
• Fresh off their surprising run in the playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers signed coach Terry Stotts to a multiyear contract extension.
• The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks to New York investment firm executives Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry.
• Sterling, who expressed contrition this week for making racist comments, has sent the NBA a letter through his lawyer that says Sterling has done nothing wrong and would not pay a league-imposed $2.5 million fine.