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Resilient Clippers knot series Pacers eye return to East final

LOS ANGELES, May 12, (Agencies): The Los Angeles Clippers rallied for a wild 101-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday to even their best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final at 2-2. The Clippers fell behind 22 points during the first quarter and never led until the game’s final 83 seconds yet found a way to avoid being pushed to the brink of playoff elimination. Reserve Darren Collison sparked the Clippers with 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, scoring four straight to put Los Angeles ahead 101-97 with 32 seconds left. Collison, who went scoreless in the Clippers’ Game Three loss, got a big confidence boost from head coach Doc Rivers despite his struggles.

“He told me to stay in there. No matter how many plays (the Thunder were making), just stay aggressive,” Collison told reporters. “In the fourth quarter we were more aggressive, and made more plays than them.” Kevin Durant had a game-high 40 points and added seven rebounds in the crushing defeat, which ended when Russell Westbrook missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer. “It was a good look,” said Westbrook, of the final shot. “We didn’t have any more timeouts to call one. It’s a tough loss, but this is a series.” Westbrook finished with 27 points and eight assists. Blake Griffin tallied a team-high 25 points while Chris Paul had 23 points and 10 assists for the Clippers’ attack.

Los Angeles opened the series with a 17-point rout last week, but Durant and Westbrook responded strongly and had their team headed for a 3-1 series lead at one point on Sunday. Oklahoma City held a 16-point advantage early in the fourth, but the Clippers turned the game around with a small lineup that saw the 6-foot Paul guard 6-foot-9 Durant in the final stages. Guard Jamal Crawford factored into the late Los Angeles run and contributed 18 points to help rescue the home Clippers and stun the Thunder. “That’s the ups and downs of the playoffs,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Now it’s a best-of-three series and we have two (possible) games at home.” Game Five is Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

In Washington, Indiana’s Paul George compiled a playoff career-high 39 points and added 12 rebounds as the Pacers edged Washington 95-92 to take a 3-1 lead in their NBA Eastern Conference semi-final series on Sunday. The top-seeded Pacers trailed by 17 points at halftime but fought back to win their third straight game and take a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series. The Pacers can advance to a second consecutive East final with a win in Game Five set for Tuesday in Indiana.

After losing the series opener the Pacers have toughened up on defense to take control, holding the Wizards to a franchise-low 63 points in a Game Three win. Paul ignited the offense on Sunday when he was aggressive early and scored 28 second-half points to lead a comeback. “In the first quarter I got into a rhythm and my team mates found me,” said George, who played 46 of the possible 48 minutes. “I already had it in my head that I was pretty much going to play the distance. I wanted to give whatever was needed.”
Indiana center Roy Hibbert continued his resurgence with 17 points and nine rebounds. Hibbert’s 12-foot jump shot with one minute left in the game gave the Pacers a 94-91 edge.

Bradley Beal scored a team-high 20 for Washington but the Wizards let a potential win slip away. The home team was outscored 33-17 in the third quarter to see their lead evaporate. Trevor Ariza added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Wizards, who are lacking in playoff experience but are not ready to concede the series. “(Lack of experience) is an excuse,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “I don’t talk about that because I don’t want our guys using that as an excuse. We have to go out and win a ballgame.”

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