OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder keep finding young players to add to their improving team.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points, and a pair of rookies led Oklahoma City on a key run in the fourth quarter as the Thunder snapped a three-game losing streak with a 109-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.
With Durant and the other starters failing to play with the energy coach Scott Brooks was seeking, he turned to his bench — and rookies James Harden and Serge Ibaka — to lead the way in a tight game.
“Those two rookies, they came in and did a great job of controlling the game in the fourth quarter,” Brooks said.
Harden scored Oklahoma City’s first seven points of the fourth quarter to help the Thunder stretch their lead, and Nick Collison’s tip-in pushed the advantage to 86-77.
After Charlie Villanueva scored the next five points for Detroit, Harden and Ibaka combined on a 9-0 run to give Oklahoma City its largest lead of the night, 95-82. Harden hit a 3-pointer and then assisted on back-to-back baskets by Ibaka.
“We drafted him to be a playmaker,” Brooks said of Harden, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft. “We’ve got some pretty good scorers on our team, and he can score the ball, there’s no doubt. He’s done it in college and he did it at a very good clip, but he’s a playmaker. He makes good plays.
“I just like the way he plays. He plays hard, he plays for his teammates and he’s not looking to score every time.”
Harden finished with 14 points and matched his career high with eight assists while Ibaka scored a career-high 12. The Thunder had lost their last two home games after being tied with Cleveland and leading Dallas in the final quarter.
“We played four quarters,” Harden said. “I think those last three games that we played and lost, we played three good quarters and then in the fourth, we just kind of slacked off a little bit.”
Rodney Stuckey had a season-high 31 points to lead Detroit. He scored 20 in the first half and then wasn’t much of a factor until the game was out of hand.
The Pistons’ offense fell apart in crunch time without injured starters Richard Hamilton (ankle), Tayshaun Prince (back), and Ben Gordon (ankle). Detroit let the shot clock run out three times in a 3-minute span as Harden and Ibaka fueled Oklahoma City’s offense.
“Rodney’s had a wonderful start and stuff like that but we need him to lead. … He’s a very gifted offensive player, but we have to generate things, with being short-handed, from everybody,” Pistons coach John Kuester said. “Not just Stuckey, everybody has to take ownership of how we defend and even if you don’t make the right play, your body language tells you whether you’re ready to react the way we want you to, and that’s all I’m asking.”
Jeff Green added 19 points and Russell Westbrook scored 14 for the Thunder.
Villanueva had 16 points off the bench, and Will Bynum and rookie Jonas Jerebko each scored 12 for Detroit, which has lost three in a row after a five-game winning streak.
After Detroit went ahead 22-12, Brooks turned to Ibaka and Harden. Oklahoma City scored the next six points to get back in the game.
“Our starters were not ready to play,” Brooks said. “They didn’t come out with the intensity that it takes to play in this league and stop players in this league. We were hoping they would miss shots instead of making them miss.”
NOTES: Pistons rookie Austin Daye had four fouls in 3:50 on the court in the first quarter. … Oklahoma City passed the 1 million mark in home attendance, 55 games after the franchise moved from Seattle. … The Thunder’s NBA Development League affiliate in Tulsa acquired forward Deron Washington from the Los Angeles Lakers’ D-League team in a trade for former Oklahoma forward Keith Clark. Tulsa released forward DeVon Hardin, the Thunder’s 2008 second-round draft pick, due to a concussion to make room for Washington, but Oklahoma City still retains his rights.