LOS ANGELES (AP) –– Blake Griffin scored 24 points, Chris Paul had 22 points and 14 assists, and the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted the Golden State Warriors 126-121 in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their thrilling first-round playoff series.
Jamal Crawford scored 22 points for the third-seeded Clippers, who won just the franchise’s third playoff series in 38 years after persevering through two tumultuous weeks for their franchise.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA on Tuesday after a recording of racist comments by the 80-year-old billionaire was made public last week.
Los Angeles advanced to a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who eliminated Memphis earlier Saturday. The Clippers’ second-round series opener is Monday night in Oklahoma City.
Stephen Curry had 33 points and nine assists, but Golden State blew a late lead in Game 7. Draymond Green scored 24 points for the Warriors, who lost their first Game 7 since 1977 and failed to advance in consecutive postseasons for the first time since that same year.
An exhausting series ended with one last well-played game between the California powers, trading the lead throughout the second half.
Los Angeles couldn’t seize control of the first home Game 7 in franchise history until the final minutes — and the Clippers did it with Lob City.
Griffin put the Clippers ahead for good by muscling home a layup with 2:11 left, and DeAndre Jordan blocked Curry’s layup attempt to set up a fast break, leading to J.J. Redick’s lob to Griffin for a thunderous slam.
Jordan added a dunk on an offensive rebound, and Griffin spun in the air and threw home a layup while getting fouled with 56 seconds left for a 116-111 lead.
Curry hit three free throws with 30 seconds left, and Green hit a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 120-118. But Redick hit two more free throws to ice it, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers traded high-fives with fans and team employees before the buzzer.
Redick scored 20 points for the Clippers, and Jordan had 15 points and 18 rebounds in a stellar low-post performance for the two-time Pacific Division champions.
Klay Thompson managed just 15 points for the Warriors, failing to make a shot in the fourth quarter. Curry had just three field goals in the second half.
The game could have been the last for Golden State coach Mark Jackson, who might be on shaky ground with Warriors ownership despite presiding over the long-struggling franchise’s best two-year stretch in two decades.
After more than a week of nonstop drama and excitement, the Clippers and Staples Center returned to a semblance of normalcy to start Game 7. The players wore white socks again after protesting with black socks earlier in the series, while most sponsors’ banners were uncovered in the arena bowl after the major advertiser walkout in the wake of Sterling’s comments.
But with a healthy contingent of gold-clad fans in a sea of red T-shirts, Golden State showed no nerves on the big stage, missing only five shots in the first quarter and jumping to a 12-point lead early in the second.
The Clippers rallied to tie it, but Curry’s four-point play with 10 seconds left staked the Warriors to a 64-56 halftime lead on better than 58 percent shooting.
Los Angeles took its first lead of Game 7 on Redick’s jumper midway through the third quarter during a 24-9 run. Golden State reclaimed the lead early in the fourth on scoring spree by Jordan Crawford, but Paul led the Clippers back into the lead down the stretch.
These teams’ first playoff series was worth the wait, featuring nail-biters and blowouts along with incredible off-court distractions.
The Warriors stole the opener in Los Angeles, but the Clippers won back-to-back games before Sterling’s racist comments surfaced on TMZ, prompting them to dump their team warmups at center court before struggling through a Game 4 loss. The Warriors avoided elimination with a 100-99 win in Oakland on Thursday night.
NOTES: Curry banked in a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer, but released it an instant too late. … Jordan set a franchise record for rebounds in a single playoff series, surpassing Bob McAdoo’s 94 rebounds for the Buffalo Braves in 1975. Jordan had already set the club record for blocked shots in a series. … Warriors big man Jermaine O’Neal played only three minutes after a collision with Los Angeles’ Glen Davis in Game 6 left him with a bone bruise on his right kneecap. … Jamal Crawford completed the 43rd four-point play of his career in the second quarter, his third in the postseason.