Thunder 99, Bobcats 82
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)
A bit of patience changed that.
When the shots started falling late in the game, the Thunder scored 15 straight points, pulled away and beat the Charlotte Bobcats 99-82.
Oklahoma City extended its winning streak to a season-best six games, all against Eastern Conference foes. The Thunder are 22-6 this season against the East with two games left, including against Toronto on Sunday.
''They just wanted this game more, especially in the fourth quarter,'' said Charlotte forward Stephen Jackson, who led the Bobcats with 18 points. ''They made plays and we turned the ball over and didn't make shots. They just kept playing harder and harder and they just wanted to win more than we did.''
Durant scored 25 points and left the game with 1:40 left after sustaining what coach Scott Brooks called a bruised left shoulder. Durant said he ''ran into one of their players pretty hard'' but could've returned to the game. He said he went ahead and went to the locker room early as a precautionary measure and that he'll be fine.
James Harden scored 21 points and Serge Ibaka continued his recent strong play since becoming a fixture in Oklahoma City's starting lineup, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots - his fourth straight game with three or more blocks. He entered the game ranked fourth in the NBA in that category, averaging 2.3.
The Thunder won their previous three games by limiting Cleveland, Washington and Miami to sub-40 percent shooting. Charlotte shot 44.6 percent while the Thunder hit 52.8 percent of their shots, but that final number masked Oklahoma City's early offensive woes, particularly those of Durant and fellow star Russell Westbrook, who combined for 10 first-half points on 3-of-13 shooting.
''We just had to take it slow, as simple as that,'' Durant said. ''Just take it slow and move the basketball. Sometimes we held it a little bit too long. I could have made a better pass a few times. It's just all about moving the basketball. I think we did a decent job.''
Fortunately for that duo, the rest of the Thunder went 15 of 20 from the field in the first half as Oklahoma City built a 10-point lead in the second quarter. Charlotte scored the final seven points before halftime to pull within 45-43.
The Bobcats led briefly at 50-49 after a 3-pointer by Boris Diaw three minutes into the third quarter, but Durant and Westbrook began asserting themselves offensively. Durant scored seven straight points to put Oklahoma City ahead 55-50. Westbrook, after missing his first five shots, went 4 of 7 from the field in the third quarter.
Durant fed Nazr Mohammed for a basket with a second left in the period, giving the Thunder a 74-65 lead.
D.J. White - obtained from Oklahoma City in a trade last month - scored nine straight points to pull the Bobcats within 81-79 with 6:51 left, but Durant hit a fallaway jumper at the shot clock buzzer to start the Thunder's decisive run. Westbrook had two dunks, including a reverse number after stealing the ball immediately after a Charlotte inbounds pass following his two free throws.
''He's not going to miss a lot of dunks,'' Brooks said.
Charlotte has lost seven of its last nine games.
''It's tough because losing is always tough,'' Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. ''We just have to pick it up and all I ask is that we play hard and play tough and I thought we did that for a certain point and then really fell off, which makes it difficult to really assess where we are now.''
Brooks said he's at a loss to figure out why the Thunder have been so successful against Eastern Conference teams.
''I wish I knew,'' he said. ''We don't look at it as 'We're playing the East or the West.' We look at it as, we're playing a game that we're going to have to play well. We have to execute and do a lot of good things to get the win. It just so happens we have a decent record against the East.''
Westbrook finished with 18 points and seven assists. Diaw added 13 points for Charlotte.
Notes: A raffle and auction held during the game by the Thunder raised money for victims of wildfires that have plagued Oklahoma in recent days. On March 11, more than 30 homes were destroyed by wildfires in Harrah, Choctaw and Goldsby. The team also honored Vickie Optiz, who lost her animal rescue facility in Harrah in the fire. She managed to save the facility's two dozen dogs from the blaze. ... Thunder teammates Durant and Royal Ivey, both former Texas stars, aren't able to travel 100 miles to Tulsa to watch their beloved Longhorns in the NCAA tournament because the Thunder are playing at home Friday and Sunday, the same days as the Tulsa games. ''We've got to take care of business here. I'm sure they're going to do the same,'' Durant said. Both watched Texas hang on for an 85-81 win over Oakland on Friday. ''It's hard to close people out in the tournament,'' said Ivey, who had a Texas hat in his locker. ... In his first return to Oklahoma City after being traded to Charlotte, White scored nine points.