By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Clippers will no longer be pushed around and their latest dustup with a Western Conference nemesis proved it once and for all.
When the Clippers fought back from a deficit to slay the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder 111-103 on Wednesday, they did so in the literal sense as tempers flared and players were ejected during an intense exchange that displayed a newfound attitude.
It all started in the second quarter when Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka and Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin got tangled up near the basket.
Ibaka, who was whistled for a foul, flung Griffin off of him and was quickly met by the Clippers' Matt Barnes who shoved Ibaka hard in the chest and set off tussling on both sides.
Ibaka and Barnes were each ejected, but the more meaningful response was a Clippers' rally.
"It woke us up," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told reporters. "You never want something like that to happen, but it definitely woke us up."
Los Angeles trailed by six points at the time of the incident, just before halftime, but they hit back by dominating the Thunder in the second half where they outscored them 58-41.
"Adversity is good. It always is," said first-year Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "We were down, so you've got to show something.
"We can fight back."
A fighting spirit is precisely what Rivers wanted to instill in the team when he arrived this year after nine seasons of coaching in Boston.
Rivers' Celtics teams were notoriously feisty and they used that nastiness to reach two National Basketball Association Finals, winning one.
These Clippers can certainly learn from that model. The past two years they have crumbled under the physicality of the playoffs and suffered early exits.
Their latest resistance, however, is a positive sign and it was also significant for them to defeat an Oklahoma City team that beat them in all three meetings last season.
Dampening the mood of the Clippers' triumph was Barnes, who sent waves through the locker room by lashing out via Twitter.
Barnes, the team's key enforcer, sent out a tweet mid-contest that read: "I love my teammates like family, but I'm done standing up (for them)! All this (does) is cost me money."
The tweet was quickly removed from Barnes's account, and the team downplayed the comment after the game.
"It's (right after) the incident, let's let it cool down and see how everybody feels," Griffin said after registering 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the win. "We appreciate what Matt does. We have his back and he has ours."
Chris Paul echoed his support of Barnes, and his 14 points and 16 assists helped the Clippers make a statement against a prime Western Conference contender.
And as swift as Paul was on the court, he was just as quick to remind everyone that while the Clippers are not afraid to mix it up, they do not have to validate their toughness with their fists.
"At the end of the day, no one in the NBA is holding a world championship belt (for fighting),"Paul said. "Toughness is on the court. It's how you rebound, how you defend. We're getting there."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)