Thunder 116, Timberwolves 108
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
First, Kevin Durant told a cheering crowd that making the playoffs was ``only the beginning'' for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then he went to work proving it, setting a record in the process.
Durant scored 40 points to break the franchise record for scoring in a season and Oklahoma City fought off a spirited charge by the Minnesota Timberwolves for a 116-108 victory on Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the Thunder had clinched their first playoff spot in five years.
Durant took a microphone to midcourt before the game started and was greeted by a standing ovation from the Thunder's 25th sellout crowd of the season.
Oklahoma City (48-28) has more than doubled its win total after going 23-59 last season, but Durant believes there are even brighter days ahead.
``There's another season,'' he said. ``There's always two seasons in the NBA - which is the regular season and the playoffs - and some people don't make it. Unfortunately we didn't make it these last two years but we have the opportunity this year.
``It starts over, so you're 0-0 once you go to the playoffs.''
The Thunder's sixth victory in their last seven games moved them within 1 1/2 games of the four teams tied for second place in the West and also maintained their one-game cushion over seventh-place San Antonio.
``That's something that we can't worry about,'' Durant said. ``We've just got to go out there and control what we can control, and that's going out there and playing hard. These last six games, we'll let the chips fall where they may. If we give it all we've got, then we'll be satisfied.''
Despite a hot start, the Thunder could hardly relax against the last-place Timberwolves. Oklahoma City built a 25-point lead in the first half, then had to hang on as Minnesota moved back within six in the final 10 minutes.
Durant hit a jumper and then threw down a two-handed alley-oop jam with 5 minutes left to restore Oklahoma City's lead to double digits and break the franchise scoring record in the process.
Russell Westbrook added 10 points and a career-best 16 assists, Jeff Green had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Nenad Krstic scored 14 points - including jumpers on three straight possessions down the stretch to push the Thunder's lead to 110-96 and ice the game.
``We still have a lot to accomplish. We haven't done anything yet,'' Green said. ``We can go into the playoffs and lose four straight, and then everybody will forget about what we did.
``So, we have to continue to focus and continue to make a push.''
Ryan Gomes scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to lead Minnesota's comeback bid. Jonny Flynn also finished with 22 as the Timberwolves lost for the 24th time in their last 26 games, including 10 straight road losses.
Oklahoma City shot 71 percent in the first quarter and built a 43-25 lead after Durant hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds. Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said he wrote down the number 43 - the most points the Thunder have scored in a quarter this season and matching the Timberwolves' most given up in a period - and showed it to his team to urge on a better defensive effort.
``You can't give up that many points and expect to stay in the ballgame,'' Rambis said. ``I let them know that that was ridiculous and absurd of a number to give up defensively.''
The Timberwolves fell behind by as many as 25 in the second quarter and were down 24 in the opening minutes of the second half before the Thunder missed 16 of their first 20 third-quarter shots.
Gomes scored seven points in a 9-0 run and his basket inside cut the deficit to 80-71 before Durant extended Oklahoma City's cushion with four free throws on a single possession. He made all three for getting fouled by Corey Brewer behind the arc and another because Brewer was whistled for a technical for whirling in frustration after the call.
Minnesota rallied back again to get within 92-86 on Gomes' 3-pointer from the left wing with 9:25 to play before the Thunder started scoring with regularity again.
Durant's late push moved him past Dale Ellis for the season scoring record. Ellis scored 2,253 points during the 1988-89 season, when the franchise was still in Seattle. Durant has 2,258 with six games left this season.
``He's terrific,'' Rambis said. ``Because of his length, he just has almost an unfair advantage in his ability to shoot over the top of people. It's very difficult to find a matchup for him. ... But any time you compare a player to any of the great players that have played the game, he's got to be considered because of how he's carried his team on his back.
``But the hallmark has always been what happens in the playoffs. That's what separates All-Stars from great players - ones that can deliver in the playoffs.''
NOTES: C Darko Milicic, who had started Minnesota's last eight games and 12 of 14, was inactive after bruising his jaw in the second quarter of a loss to Miami on Saturday. ... Minnesota also gave up 43 points in the second quarter of a 119-97 loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 9. ... Westbrook had eight assists in the first nine minutes of the game and seven in the last nine minutes.