OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Russell Westbrook blocked Stephen Curry’s layup, Kevin Durant corralled the ball and dribbled down court. He threw down a soaring dunk at full extension, then pretended to slice his throat and crossed his hands in prayer.
“Kill `em and pray for `em after the game,” Durant said of his new celebration.
Durant finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists to help the Oklahoma City Thunder regain the Western Conference’s best record with a 116-97 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
“It’s nothing against the team I’m playing against,” Durant said of his animated moves, adding that somebody encouraged him to do it following a highlight dunk. “Come out with a mindset and be friends after the game.”
With Durant leading the way, that’s just what the Thunder did.
Kevin Martin scored 23 points off the bench and Russell Westbrook added 18 points and nine assists for the Thunder, who moved a half-game ahead of idle San Antonio for the top seed. The Spurs split the season series with Oklahoma City, but the Thunder (58-21) own the tiebreaker because of its better conference record.
Oklahoma City ended a stretch of six games against playoffs teams 5-1.
“Our approach was to embrace the challenge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “And I think our guys have done a good job of that.”
Two nights after sealing the franchise’s second playoff berth in 19 years, Golden State missed a chance to take the next step.
Curry scored 22 points and reserve Jarrett Jack had 19 points on a night the Warriors lost center Andrew Bogut to another injury. The 7-footer left in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Bogut is not expected to make the trip to Los Angeles for Friday’s night game against the Lakers.
“Even before that, they played playoff basketball and we didn’t,” Jackson said. “That was a team that’s chasing the No. 1 seed and was trying to send a message, `Just in case I see you at some point down the road.'”
The Warriors (45-34) are a mere half-game ahead of Houston for sixth place in the West. The Rockets hold the tiebreaker after winning three of four this season over Golden State, which looked every bit like a team at the back of the playoff pack against the defending conference champions.
At times, even in embarrassing fashion.
Serge Ibaka blocked Bogut’s dunk attempt at the rim in the first quarter, then gave an extended finger wave that even drew roars from Golden State’s 31st straight sellout crowd announced at 19,596. Ibaka ran down court to tip-back Durant’s miss, then hit a 3-pointer and later dunked to put Oklahoma City ahead 22-15.
“To perform like that on our home court is tough to swallow,” Curry said.
Ibaka finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Durant was 10 for 16 from the floor, helping the Thunder outshoot the Warriors 50.6 to 44 percent.
Bogut exited with 2:55 remaining in the quarter, went to the locker and did not return. The team said Bogut sprained his left ankle, which he broke in January of 2012 and underwent microfracture on last April.
In the meantime, Durant and Westbrook got rolling late in the second half, including that incredible series that led to Durant’s dunk and will surely fill the highlights.
“When I said killed them, I mean our attitude was straight focused, laser-focused, ready to play every possession, locked in on every possession at both ends,” Durant said. “We knew what we were playing for. We know every game is important. So we were locked in from the beginning. That’s what we need to do.”
The Thunder’s defense smothered Golden State’s shooters in the third quarter to put the game away. They started the third quarter on a 22-5 run, and they took a 94-73 lead on Durant’s 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter.
Oklahoma City played the second half without its center, too, due to an injury that seems far less serious. Kendrick Perkins sat out the final 24 minutes because of right hamstring tightness, but said he’ll be fine.
With the Thunder in full control, there was no need to play anyway.
The only drama left was whether Durant would get his second triple-double of the season against the Warriors. Instead, Brooks replaced Durant with 8:14 remaining with his team still up 20 points.
Durant recorded his first career triple-double in a 119-109 win over the Warriors in Oklahoma City on Nov. 18.
“He’s one of the greatest players in the game,” said Warriors reserve Draymond Green, who got turned around when Durant threw down his dunk. “We have to be more physical.” NOTES: Martin left in the fourth quarter with lower back tightness but said he’ll be fine. … The Thunder won the season-series 3-1. … Curry joined Ray Allen (2005-06), Dennis Scott (1995-96) and George McCloud (1995-96) as the only players in NBA history to make at least 250 3-pointers in a season.