OKLAHOMA CITY — After blowing out the New Orleans Hornets in the teams’ two previous matchups, the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn’t expecting a tough night Wednesday. However, the Thunder found themselves in a battle at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
After a slow start, Kevin Durant showed why he is once again an MVP candidate, scoring 13 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 92-88 victory.
The win was the ninth in a row for Oklahoma City (18-4), but the Thunder’s string of 12 consecutive games scoring more than 100 points ended.
Even a team fresh off a trip to the NBA finals can still learn things about itself.
“It’s a long season,” Durant said. “You have to take it a game at time. I think last game and this game were a good test for us to see how we are going to fight through adversity. We had been making shots lately, and for us to miss and miss over and over, to stick with our defense was really inspiring us to keep playing.”
The Hornets (5-16) had their chances to steal the win. With less than two minutes left, New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis hit four consecutive free throws to get his team within two points.
Oklahoma City then went to Durant, who drove into the lane and was fouled as he made the layup. The ensuing free throw gave the Thunder an 89-84 advantage.
“Coach’s always telling me to be extra aggressive,” Durant said. “I just found some lanes, and my teammates did a great job of drawing and kicking and I made some shots.”
After another Davis free throw, the Hornets came up with an offensive rebound, and Brian Roberts knocked down a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left, slicing New Orleans’ deficit to 89-88.
Durant hit one of two from the line, and New Orleans had one last chance to tie or win the game with eight seconds remaining. The Hornets got the ball to Greivis Vasquez, but Kendrick Perkins forced him into an off-balance 3-pointer that missed the mark. New Orleans missed the tip-in, and Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha put the game away with two free throws.
Vasquez wasn’t happy with his final shot, but he liked how the team responded and the back and forth trash talking he had with Durant during the final period. The two played high school basketball together at Christian School in Rockville, Md.
“It was a fun game,” Vasquez said. “There was a little bit of trash talk. But it’s always good. Me and KD went to high school together, so I’ve known this guy for so long. I have respect for him and, obviously, he respects me. It’s always fun playing against KD.”
Roberts paced New Orleans with 16 points off the bench on 6-for-14 shooting. Anderson scored 14, but only four of his points came in the last three quarters.
Kevin Martin came off the bench to score 17 for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook shot 4 for 14 en route to 14 points, but he dished out nine assists.
Anderson single-handedly kept the Hornets in the game early on. The sharp-shooting power forward had 10 of the team’s first 14 points.
But it was New Orleans’ team defense that gave them a 19-17 lead heading into the second period. The 17 points was the lowest first quarter total Oklahoma City has scored this year.
The Thunder still trailed the Hornets 44-36 at halftime in their lowest scoring output of the season. Their previous low was 40 points. The Thunder’s futility extended over into the third quarter. While Durant was able to find his stroke, the rest of the team stayed cold from the field.
New Orleans wasn’t much better, but they crashed the boards and collected second chance points to go ahead by 11.
However, fresh off his stint with the Tulsa 66ers in D-League, Reggie Jackson came off the bench in the final minutes to help spark a 7-0 run to end the period and close the gap to 62-58.
“I thought Reggie impacted the game when he came in, and that’s hard to do,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He hasn’t played much, but he’s always working and he’s always ready for an opportunity, and he came in and did very well.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org