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Thunder beat Clippers 109-97 to extend West lead
By BETH HARRIS
LOS ANGELES (AP) Coming off a loss two nights earlier in Denver, the Oklahoma City Thunder were more interested in bouncing back with a win than making any statements against the Clippers.
"We've got 82 games and we want to play well every night," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We don't put more emphasis on any one game. We know the Clippers are one of the best teams, and with Chris Paul in or out, they've still got a great team."
Serge Ibaka added 17 points before fouling out late while helping the Thunder improve to a league-best 33-9 and expand their lead in the Western Conference standings to one game over the Clippers, who were without All-Star Paul. They fell to 32-11.
"They were missing Chris Paul, which is a huge piece, but they were still good in his absence," Durant said. "We wanted to come in here and get a good road win."
Blake Griffin had 31 points and 11 rebounds, and Jamal Crawford added 14 points off the bench. Eric Bledsoe scored 12 points starting in place of Paul, who missed his fourth game because of a bruised right kneecap. He missed three road wins last week, then played the next two games but it was obvious Paul wasn't himself so he was held out Tuesday.
After the game, coach Vinny Del Negro said, "Chris is going to be out. Hopefully, we get him back soon. It's a day-to-day thing."
The Clippers play 10 of their next 11 on the road.
"Chris is the orchestrator. He'll organize everything out there," Crawford said. "There's no way to replace him, but collectively we'll get it together."
The Clippers had won four straight at home against the Thunder, and they led much of the first quarter before giving up the lead for good early in the second.
"They're a good team at home, and right now we're two of the best teams in the NBA," Westbrook said. "It was a big win for us. We made some big shots and guys made the right plays."
Los Angeles made a run to start the fourth, with Grant Hill and Crawford combining to score seven in a row and close to 82-75. That was as close as the Clippers came in losing their second straight.
"They just hit shots down the stretch," Griffin said. "We tried to fight back, but we put ourselves in too big of a hole. They have the best record in the NBA for a reason. Every game for us we know we're going to get a team's best. We're not going to hang our heads."
Durant keyed a 3-point barrage over the next nearly 4 minutes, making three of them himself while Westbrook added one and Ibaka had another to extend the Thunder's lead to 99-82 - their largest of the game. Three of those 3s came after the Thunder grabbed offensive rebounds.
"I couldn't find a shot early on because they were playing some great defense. They were putting multiple guys on me when I was driving and on pick-and-rolls, so I just tried to take what the defense was giving me and be aggressive," Durant said.
"My shots were falling and my teammates were getting offensive rebounds and kicking it out for 3s. We were getting guys open for 3s. When we're driving and kicking, we're pretty good."
Durant scored on a driving dunk to make it 101-85, then punctuated it by punching his right arm in the air.
The Clippers cut their deficit to 105-97. After Westbrook missed, Griffin raced down court and proceeded to throw the ball into the seats. He bent over with his head in his hands.
Having beaten the Clippers in overtime in November, the Thunder won the season series, with one game remaining on Jan. 22.
"We know we can beat them if we eliminate some of the offensive rebounds and 3-pointers," Matt Barnes said. "We fear nobody."
Oklahoma City pulled away to a 77-61 lead in the third on a 3-pointer by Thabo Sefolosha and a fast break dunk by Westbrook. The Clippers cut it to nine on seven straight points, including four by Crawford, before the Thunder scored the last five points to lead 82-68 going into the fourth.
The Thunder controlled the second, taking their first lead of the game on Kevin Martin's 3-pointer 45 seconds in. That launched a 13-2 run that gave the Thunder a nine-point lead, their largest to that point. Griffin scored the Clippers' final six points to help them close to 49-45 at halftime.
The Clippers led by eight before the Thunder closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 22-all.
NOTES: It was Paul's bobblehead night. ... Clippers F Caron Butler swatted away a shot in the second quarter and the ball hit referee Derek Richardson in the head, knocking him backward to the court. He wasn't hurt. ... The Thunder improved to 2-1 on their season-high six-game trip. ... The Clippers agreed to a 10-year extension of their lease at Staples Center, where they are one of the arena's original tenants. The extension takes effect at the end of this season, and will keep them in the arena through June 2024.
Updated January 23, 2013