A couple of streaks ended Tuesday night, as the Kings held Durant to just 23 points. Granted, he didn’t play one minute of the 4th, and seemed like he was happy the media focus was about to disperse back throughout the entire squad, instead of the brightest spotlight being squarely on him.
“I don’t like all the attention when it’s a team game. I’m glad it’s over.”
Another bright spot for the Thunder is that Kendrick Perkins returned for the Spurs affair, and now Thabo Sefolosha is officially back as well, as he was cleared to play just in time for the Kings contest. Now our starting five is finally healthy, and just in time too.
A Thunder 2-game losing streak also snapped when the Thunder found victory at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, using a 16-0 run to start the 4th to create the breathing space necessary to win. They were only up 8 (85-77) to start the 4th, and found themselves up 101-77 with 6:24 to play. After that, it was all the Kings could do to pull back within 20. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Kings still took a 107-92 pasting that jumped the Thunder to 56-21, while dropping the Kings to a horrid 27-51.
Durant was good for 23 points, while Serge Ibaka posted 19, and Russell Westbrook added 13. While Jeremy Lamb posted 10 points off of the Thunder bench, Caron Butler had the hot hand in this contest, scoring 23 points off of 8-for-10 shooting, including 6-for-6 on his 3-ball attempts from off of the bench.
DeMarcus Cousins posted a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, while Travis Outlaw added 24 points of his own. Jason Thompson and Ben McLemore were good for 11 points apiece as well. The Kings got almost nothing from their bench, as 4 bench players combined for a total of 15 points.
The Clippers, on the other hand, were (and still are) sitting in the #3 seed for the Western Conference, knowing full well that their playoff appearance is guaranteed at this stage. As of Wednesday night, they were still an outside threat to potentially steal the #2 spot from the Thunder, so this game was all about the playoff seeding.
As of tonight, however, the #1 spot is officially going to the Spurs, as the Thunder are 3 1/2 games back with only 4 games remaining, counting the Clippers victory. The Spurs, however, only have 3 games remaining, meaning even if they lose out, the Thunder would still be half-a-game back for the #1 seed.
Oddly, the Clippers managed a maximum lead of 1 on the Thunder for the whole game, while the Thunder had their’s pushed to 17 at one point. Although this particular 4th quarter nearly went the Clippers’ way. The Thunder were up 94-79 with 7:08 to play, when the Clippers sparked a 16-0 run to pull within a single point (94-93) while taking just over two minutes off of the clock. The Thunder lead was only 2 (102-100) with just over 1 minute remaining, yet free throws were the only made baskets in that final minute. Seeing as the Thunder made 5 free throws to the Clippers’ 1 in that time frame, the Thunder escaped Staples Center with a 107-101 victory that puts the Thunder at 57-21 while dropping the Clippers to 55-24. With the Clippers now 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder, and with only 4 games left on the Thunder schedule, the Thunder only need 2 more victories to secure the #2 seed.
Westbrook went off in his home city of L.A., dropping 30 points and pulling down 11 boards. Durant was right behind him with 27, and Ibaka dropped 15. We didn’t get our usual bench production in this one though, as 5 bench players combined for 26 total points.
Two double-doubles by Clipper starters weren’t enough to seal the win here (Blake Griffin: 30 points, 12 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan: 10 points, 12 rebounds.), even after adding Chris Paul’s 25 points. Although Darren Collison deserves credit for a decent game off of the Clippers bench, scoring 12.
4 teams are still vying for 3 remaining playoff seeds (the Trail Blazers have since clinched), but tonight’s opponent, the Pelicans, are not among those teams. They’re simply looking to play spoiler coming into OKC, as that’s really all they can do. The Thunder took the first contest in this series 109-95 back on Dec. 6th, and a win tonight will claim the season series outright for the Thunder, despite another match-up to take place this coming Monday. Tonight’s affair tips at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.