Durant, Westbrook lead Thunder past Pelicans
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Not much about Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook goes unnoticed.
In the past week, while much of the NBA has focused on Kevin Durant’s run at a possible first MVP award, Westbrook quietly has been the Thunder’s most productive and efficient offensive player.
Westbrook turned in another gem on Friday, finishing with 24 points and seven assists in just 28 minutes to help Oklahoma City beat the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans 116-94 on Friday night.
Oklahoma City won its third straight and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Westbrook has been sitting in one game of back-to-backs, so he has played in just four of Oklahoma City’s past six games.
In those four games, he is averaging 28.5 points, 6.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field.
”He’s well rested and he’s taking advantage of a lot of matchups,” Durant, who led the Thunder with 27 points against New Orleans, said.
”That’s what we need from him. He’s playing extremely well. He’s picking and choosing his spots well. He’s playing with a lot of intensity for us.”
Westbrook said moving in and out of the lineup hasn’t slowed him down.
”My job is to always stay confident, regardless of if I’m playing or if I’m missing games,” he said. ”Just come out with a positive mindset and try to keep going.”
Serge Ibaka added 16 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocks for the Thunder.
”It seemed like he had 10 or 11 blocks,” Durant said. ”He was protecting the paint. He was there on pick and rolls. He was there all night.”
The Thunder shot 54 from the field, made 23 of 27 free throws and committed just 11 turnovers. Oklahoma City led by 25 points at the end of the third quarter, so Durant and Westbrook rested in the fourth.
Oklahoma City outscored New Orleans 28-0 in fast-break points.
”They were able to steal a lot of buckets in transition,” New Orleans guard Austin Rivers said. ”I felt like every time we made one mistake, I felt like they capitalized on it, where when we got one, we weren’t able to.”
Darius Miller scored a career-high 18 points and Rivers had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Pelicans. New Orleans was without injured starters Anthony Davis (back) and Eric Gordon (left knee tendinitis).
”Our guys, they just scrapped and clawed and tried to do what they can to help their teammates,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. ”It’s a tough situation playing against a good team.”
The Thunder took advantage of New Orleans’ depleted lineup by taking a 30-23 lead at the end of the first quarter. Oklahoma City’s reserves helped the Thunder push the lead to 44-27.
New Orleans went on an 11-0 run before Derek Fisher scored for the Thunder. On Oklahoma City’s next possession, Durant sent a nice pass to a running Ibaka, who dunked to put the Thunder up by 10. Durant’s jumper with three seconds left in the first half put the Thunder up 60-47 at the break.
Westbrook scored 16 points in the first half on just 10 shots, while Durant and Ibaka added 12 points apiece.
Midway through the third quarter, Rivers got ahead of the pack for what looked like an easy basket. Ibaka caught up with him and pinned his shot on the glass, then Durant dunked on the other end to give the Thunder a 75-56 lead.
”He’s fast enough to keep up with guards,” Rivers said of Ibaka. ”When you have a 7-foot guy who can jump, running on a fast break on defense, it’s hard to get to the basket. Their defense is all on him. Without Ibaka, this is a whole different team.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City started its preferred lineup of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha for just the 22nd time this season. Oklahoma City has played nine starting lineups. … Durant was presented the Western Conference Player of the Month award for March before the game. He has won four out of five months. … Rivers got his first start of the season, and New Orleans rookie F Jeff Withey got his second. … New Orleans G Brian Roberts left the game with a left ankle injury and did not return. … New Orleans G Tyreke Evans left the game with a right knee bone bruise and did not return. … Perkins, Durant and Westbrook were issued technical fouls in the third quarter. Durant picked up his 15th of the season.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.