Westbrook, OKC gain ground on Spurs
Motivated by a technical foul on his coach, Russell Westbrook took control of a tight game and provided the energy the Oklahoma City Thunder needed to pull away from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Kevin Durant had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Westbrook scored 21 points and fueled a key third-quarter spurt that helped Oklahoma City beat Portland 103-83 on Sunday night.
Serge Ibaka added 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting — all in the second half — for Oklahoma City (52-19), which made up ground on the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the Western Conference’s top playoff spot. San Antonio (53-17) lost to Houston on Sunday and now is 1 1/2 games ahead of the Thunder.
Oklahoma City held Portland to 36 points in the second half, with only 15 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
”The defense really picked up as the game went along,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. ”Going into this game you knew that they had five guys that score almost 14 points or above so everybody had to do their job and guard tonight. I thought our defense was really good in the second half.”
Damian Lillard scored 19 points for Portland (33-37), which finished 2-3 on a five-game road trip. The Blazers, who didn’t score during the final six minutes, fell three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Brooks was called for a technical foul with 2:53 left in the third quarter and that seemed to spark Westbrook. Portland’s Nicolas Batum made 2-of-3 free throws to tie the game 63-63, but a steal and dunk by Westbrook started a 10-2 run that put the Thunder ahead 73-65.
Westbrook assisted on a 14-foot jumper by Ibaka and capped the spurt with a three-point play. Westbrook finished with nine assists.
”Russell really changed the game with that two-to-three minute stretch, defensively and offensively, in the third quarter,” Brooks said. ”The game was still anybody’s game and that gave us enough of a lead. We took it into the fourth quarter and then we did a great job of finishing the game by making shots and defending. We didn’t give them any easy looks in the fourth quarter.”
In the fourth quarter, Portland twice pulled within five points, the last time at 88-83 on Aldridge’s jumper with 6:01 left. The Trail Blazers didn’t score again and finished the game shooting 40.5 percent after shooting 51.4 percent in the first half.
”I thought it was a good effort against arguably the best team in the West,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. ”It was our fifth game in seven nights and we just didn’t have it at the end. They’re a talented team that creates a lot of problems at both ends of the floor. I don’t think that the final score is indicative of how the game went.”
Durant answered with a 3-pointer and after four straight futile possessions by the Trail Blazers, Ibaka hit a 14-foot jumper to give Oklahoma City its biggest lead at 95-83 with 3:19 left. Oklahoma City went on to score 15 straight points to end the game.
Ibaka, saddled by foul trouble, didn’t take a shot in the first half but consistently knocked down mid-range shots after halftime.
”It shows that he’s mature,” Westbrook said of Ibaka. ”He’s gotten better. It’s tough to play with fouls in the first half. He came back in the second half and did a great job.”
Aldridge recorded his 35th double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds, but fell below his 27.5-point scoring average in Portland’s two previous games against Oklahoma City this season. He finished 3-of-14 from the field.
After Ibaka got into foul trouble, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison mostly shared defensive duties against Aldridge before Ibaka was able to return in the second half.
”It was a combination of great defense and being lucky because of the shots he missed,” Durant said. ”Our bigs made him think a few times on those shots. Perk did a great job. Serge, Nick and (Hasheem Thabeet) did a great job on him.”
Oklahoma City has won six straight games against Portland, the longest streak by the Thunder franchise over the Trail Blazers since the Seattle SuperSonics won six straight from Feb. 9, 1994, to Jan. 15, 1995. It’s the third straight season the Thunder have taken the season series from Portland, the first time that’s happened since a run from the 1995-96 to 1997-98 seasons.
The Thunder scored 13 straight points during a 2 1/2-minute stretch of the first quarter to go up 19-10 and didn’t trail again until J.J. Hickson capped a 6-of-9 shooting half by banking in a 16-foot jumper at the buzzer to put Portland ahead 47-45.
Portland led by five points in the third quarter, but consecutive pull-up jumpers by Thabo Sefolosha and Westbrook put the Thunder back ahead 60-59 at the 5:43 mark.
Kevin Martin scored 11 points for Oklahoma City and Collison added 10. Batum finished with 13 points for Portland, with Hickson scoring 12 and Eric Maynor adding 10. It was Maynor’s first game in Oklahoma City since the Thunder traded him to Portland last month. He received applause from the crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena when he entered the game.
”It was just good to see all of those guys,” Maynor said. ”It felt good for the crowd to clap for me when I checked in and stuff like that. I had some good memories here. I wish we could have got a win, but other than that it was cool.”