Thunder shows toughness on road beating Detroit
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a month ahead of last season’s pace.
Kevin Durant scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead Oklahoma City to a 91-83 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.
“We showed some toughness on the road against a playoff team and passed a big test,” Durant said.
The franchise is 2-0 for the first time since the 2003-04 season when it was in Seattle.
The Thunder began 1-16 last season, their first in Oklahoma City, and didn’t get their second victory until Nov. 29.
“It is a big win, to go into one of the best arenas in the league and win their home opener,” coach Scott Brooks said.
Last season’s poor start cost coach P.J. Carlesimo his job.
Ben Gordon, starting for the injured Richard Hamilton, had 25 points in his home debut for Detroit after scoring 22 in its season-opening win at Memphis. Rodney Stuckey scored 21, but had just two assists.
Hamilton, who will also be out Saturday at Milwaukee, sprained his right ankle Wednesday night in the Pistons’ opener.
Durant made go-ahead free throws late in the third quarter and kept Oklahoma City ahead in the fourth with an array of shots such as a dunk, fadeaway and 3-pointer.
The young Thunder, though, had more than just Durant to beat the rebuilding Pistons.
Jeff Green had 16 points for Oklahoma City, Nenad Krstic scored 14 and Russell Westbrook had 10 points and 10 assists.
“They are well-coached and they have a wealth of young talent,” Detroit coach John Kuester said. “They’ve added Krstic, somebody I coached in New Jersey, Kevin Ollie, one of my favorite players of all time, and Etan Thomas, a high energy player, that gives them a nice mix.”
The Pistons started strong, leading 24-16 after the first quarter, but struggled to find a rhythm on offense the rest of the game.
“Guys’ body language wasn’t the same in the second half as it was in the first half,” Gordon said.
In the fourth quarter, Detroit didn’t have an assist and it finished with more turnovers (15) than assists (12) and shot just 37 percent from the field.
“It seemed like there was a lid on that rim,” Charlie Villanueva said after missing nine of 12 shots in his home debut with the Pistons.
Detroit started last season as an Eastern Conference contender, then revamped the team early in the season by trading Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, cap space and playing time for Stuckey. In the offseason, the Pistons lost Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess to free agency and expectations for this season plummeted.
“We’re a work in progress,” Kuester said after his second game as an NBA head coach.
Detroit’s biggest moves over the summer were signing Gordon and Villanueva as free agents. While Gordon has delivered so far, Villanueva has made just three shots in each of his first two games.
Villanueva hopes to bounce back Saturday night at Milwaukee, which didn’t make a qualifying offer to keep him as a restricted free agent.
“I’m going to be poised and let the game come to me,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t miss as many shots.”
The Thunder, meanwhile, look like they might be as good as they are young.
Oklahoma City’s starting lineup doesn’t have a player with more than five years’ experience and overall, it has the second-youngest team in the league. Rookie James Harden had eight points and eight assists in his first NBA road game.
Detroit led for much of the first three quarters, then fell behind 62-61 after eight lead changes and seven ties.
The Thunder simply wouldn’t let them come back in the fourth quarter as a sparse crowd thinned out in an arena that used to be regularly packed.
The Pistons announced the game was a sellout, but there were a lot of patches of unoccupied seats in the upper level.
“The fans shouldn’t be discouraged,” Gordon said. “It’s a new team and we all knew before the season, it’s a work in progress.”
NOTES: The Pistons paid tribute to their late owner, William Davidson, by naming the court after him and with “MR. D” stitched into the back of their collar in a permanent addition. … Seattle started 3-0 six years ago. … Gordon’s head hit the court late in the first half and he played the second with a bandage covering three stitches above his left eyebrow. … Detroit’s starting frontcourt combined for three points, an offensive rebound, a block and eight fouls in the second half.