Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 4/17/12
LOS ANGELES At its essence, professional basketball isn't so much a sport as it is an exercise in bravado, of sizing up an opponent and with body language or the spoken word asserting your dominance. It might be in the form of Blake Griffin's glare, Kobe Bryant's sneer or Kevin Garnett's motor mouth. If the tools differ, they all hammer home the same point: You've got no chance. And so, when Nick Young was asked after the Clippers' victory in Oklahoma City last week how much credit he should take for Kevin Durant's uncharacteristically poor shooting, he viewed the question as an invitation. "Call me Bruce Bowen," Young said with a smile, referring to the retired lockdown defender. When word of this bit of hubris filtered back to Durant, a leading MVP candidate, he had a few choice words for Young and other Clippers, too when they reconvened Monday at Staples Center. "He was talking about how I couldn't guard him and all that," Young said. "I guess he heard about it in the papers, that I said I was locking him up. That kind of motivated me too. He said, 'C'mon Swaggy P, common." And, so beckoned, Swaggy P did just that. Young did another solid if not quite Bowen-like job on Durant, and discovered a swag-worthy offensive touch in a way he hadn't since arriving from the Wizards at the trade deadline. Young had a team-high 19 points off the bench, including a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter, as the Clippers rallied to roll the Thunder, 92-77. It was another sign that Los Angeles' other team, like Young on Monday, is coming on. They clinched a playoff berth, their first since 2006, with Houston's loss earlier in the evening and stayed on the tail of the Lakers, who lead the Clippers by one game (and hold the tiebreaker) with five to play. And, for a night at least, they appeared to get into the head of one of the best players in the game. Durant, who scored 24 points, missed all seven 3-pointers he took, plowed into Young for a charge, bulled into Griffin's screen for another foul while chasing Young, and picked up a technical foul for yapping with the Clippers' Mo Williams, who was seated on the bench at the time. Afterward, Durant's demeanor had cooled. But his frustration may manifested itself in a case of amnesia. "I didn't say a word to Nick," Durant said. "I was talking to Mo Williams." When Young contention that Durant said Young couldn't guard him were relayed to Durant, he replied: "No, I didn't say that." Then he looked up and smiled. "I guess he was hearing things," Durant said. His reaction was reminiscent of his first playoff series two years ago, when Durant was hounded and harassed by Ron Artest into a poor shooting series, though he came within a 3-pointer at the buzzer of pushing the eighth-seeded Thunder to a seventh game against the Lakers. He was reluctant then just as he was Monday to give the defense credit. "If you go back and watch this game, man, we got great looks," Durant said. But Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said that series against Artest was valuable in Durant's development. "It challenged him in ways that at that time I don't think he was quite ready," Brooks said. "He was 21 years old and playing against a guy that was probably 50 pounds heavier and he got pushed around, but it helped. It gave us opportunities to show film and how to combat that and get better. I think getting physical is what teams try to do. Now, I think he's able to hold off his man and get open much easier." Caron Butler and, down the stretch, Kenyon Martin took turns on Durant, but most of the work landed in the lap of Young. In the Wizards' 105-102 win over Oklahoma City, Durant made just 2 of 10 3-pointers and turned the ball over seven times. In the loss to the Clippers last week, he made just 7 of 21 shots and missed a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer that was contested by DeAndre Jordan. He turned the ball over five times Monday. Meanwhile, after throttling the Clippers, Lakers, Heat and Bulls in a 10-day span, the Thunder have been pedestrian since, dropping five of their last nine. In the second half Monday, the NBA's second-highest scoring team could muster a mere 25 points. If the Thunder's confidence is flagging, the Clippers' most certainly is not. They have won 12 of their last 14, and when Oklahoma City's inevitable double teams came toward Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, there was little doubt when the ball swung to Randy Foye, Mo Williams and Young, who combined to sink 8 of 12 3-pointers. When Williams sank a 3-pointer early at the start of the quarter, it gave the Clippers who once trailed by 11 their first lead since the opening moments. In the final quarter, it was Williams who carried the Clippers, scoring all 11 points. But not long before that it had been Young, who shouted "that's what I'm talking about" after sinking his final 3-pointer. It had been that kind of night for him, some early one-bounce jumpers and enthusiastic defense getting him into the game, and his conversations with Durant keeping him there. "Once you get out there and get a hustle play or something it gets you going," Young said. "You need to get that adrenaline rush going and it helped that they were talking trash. It was one of those games you want to be a part of, talking back and forth, everybody. That's my thing right there. It felt like you were playing on the street." One that, for the Clippers, no longer looks like a dead end.
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