The Rockets put a damper on what might have otherwise been the definitive Thunder back-to-back.
The big story was streaks. Thursday the Spurs brought their 19-game winning streak to The Peake to see if they could make it 20 straight wins. They looked like they were well on their way early.
The Thunder were up 6-5 with just under two-and-a-half minutes elapsed when the Spurs sparked an 15-3 run to establish a 20-9 lead with 4:16 to play in the 1st. The Spurs lead was 10 (22-12) with 3:15 left in the 1st when the Thunder ended the quarter on a 10-2 run to pull within 2 (24-22) at the end of 1.
The 2nd quarter was all back-and-forth, with the Spurs only able to add 1 to their lead by the halftime buzzer (51-48).
The 3rd quarter looked to be more of the same, as the Spurs were up 4 (56-52) an even two minutes in. That’s when the Thunder sparked another run, this one a 15-4 run that gave the Thunder some breathing room (69-60) with 4:13 left in the 3rd. The Thunder would take a similar 9-point advantage (81-70) into the 4th quarter.
The Thunder were obviously aware of how dangerous this Spurs squad can be, so they did not let up. They started another run, this one started by a Kevin Durant running jumper with 4.9 seconds left in the 3rd. It turned into an 11-2 run that put the Thunder up 16 (89-73) with 8:35 to play. The thing about the Spurs is, they don’t go away quietly. With 7:13 left, and the score 91-77 in the Thunder’s favor, the Spurs hit on an 8-0 run to pull within 8 (91-83) while only shaving one minute off of the clock. The Thunder would then score the next 6 points to give them the breathing room they needed (97-83), and they would finish with a 106-94 victory that puts the Thunder at 55-19, while dropping the Spurs to 59-17. This doesn’t hurt the Spurs too bad though. They almost have the #1 seed locked up in the West at this point.
Durant dropped 28 points while Russell Westbrook added 27. Serge Ibaka had an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double, and Reggie Jackson dropped 14 points off of the Thunder bench.
Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard posted 17 points apiece, while Danny Green added 11. But their leading scorer came from off of the bench, as Patty Mills was good for 21 points.
This game was followed up by a road trip to the Toyota Center in Houston, TX for one more showdown with the Rockets. The Rockets had a lot to play for Friday night. They were in the midst of a 3-game losing skid, yet a win would punch their postseason ticket for sure, as playoffs would be clenched. Unfortunately, they were going to have to try to get that done without Dwight Howard, who would be out with a strained left ankle.
You could tell they were playing with competitive fire too, as they jumped out to a quick 14-4 lead in less than three minutes. The Thunder answered back with a 7-0 run that pulled them to within 3 (14-11) with 5:42 on the clock, but the Rockets shot right back with a 9-3 run that pushed the lead back out to 9 (23-14) with 3:28 to play in the 1st. Thankfully, the Thunder were still able to close the gap to 4 (27-23) after 1.
The Thunder had pulled within 3 once again at the 9:23 mark of the 2nd quarter, only to be pushed back once again by an 11-0 run that established a 14-point Rocket advantage (43-29). That was when the Thunder started a huge run that went into the 3rd quarter.
It was a 34-14 run that allowed the Thunder to finally take the lead (63-57) with 7:29 remaining in the 3rd. The Rockets had cut the lead to 2 (73-71) with 4:29 left in the quarter when the Thunder hit on an 8-2 mini-run that pushed their lead to 8 (81-73) with 2:52 left in the period. Down 8 (84-76) with 2:02 left in the 3rd, the Rockets sparked a run that went into the 4th quarter.
It became a 15-2 run that took the lead back (91-86) with 9:55 to play. The Thunder would respond with a 10-2 run that took the lead back for them (96-93) with 6:47 left on the game clock. The Rockets then responded with the run of the game that mattered, as an 11-2 run established a 104-98 Rockets lead that they would not relinquish. They defended their house via a 111-107 victory that jumps them to a playoff-clinching 50-25, while dropping the Thunder to 55-20. The Thunder are now 3.5 games behind the Spurs with 7 games remaining. The good news is that the Trail Blazers lost to the Suns 109-93 that same evening. With the Blazers 7 games behind the Thunder, 7 Thunder games remaining, and the Thunder holding the tie-breaker edge via the better in-conference record, the Thunder are officially the NBA Northwest Division Champions once again.
Durant gave a solid 28-point, 12-rebound double-double effort. He is now tied with the one and only Michael Jordan for the longest 25+-point streak of the last 50 years. Ibaka exploded for 27 points, while Jackson was good for 17. Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb even combined for 25 off of the Thunder bench (Butler: 13, Lamb: 12).
Although former Thunder 6th man James Harden led all scorers Friday night with his 39-point outing. Chandler Parsons dropped 23, and Terrence Jones had a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double. Omer Asik pulled down 12 rebounds filling in for Howard as the Rockets used a mere 8-man rotation for the game.
Durant looks to bring Jordan’s streak down at the US Airways Center tonight against the aforementioned Suns. The season series is currently deadlocked at 1-1, with the Thunder taking the Nov. 3rd meeting 103-96, and the Suns returning the favor 128-122 exactly one month ago. The Suns will be especially dangerous tonight, seeing as 5 teams are currently fighting for 4 remaining Western Conference playoff spots, and the Suns are one of those 5. And despite having an identical record as the Grizzlies at 45-31, their 0-3 record against the Grizzlies this year currently has them on the outside looking in. Tonight’s game tips off at 8pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA TV.