AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (NBA.com exclusive) -- A maturing Oklahoma City team passed its first road test of the season. The Detroit Pistons simply stopped passing while losing their home opener.
The Thunder's determined defense allowed it to overcome a spotty and disjointed first half and grab a 91-83 win at The Palace Friday night.
Looking nothing like the bumbling unit that started last season 3-29, Oklahoma City held the Pistons to 27.3 percent shooting in the second half to improve to 2-0.
It's way too early to speculate on the Thunder's ceiling this season but they're certainly making unusual progress up the growth chart.
"We're a lot tougher," point guard Russell Westbrook said.
"Everybody's playing tougher when it comes down to [crunch time], getting the stops we need to, getting the rebounds we need to and that's helping us."
Westbrook had a poor shooting night, going just 2-for-11 from the field, but his floor leadership did not suffer. He made the right decisions on offense with six second-half assists, twice as many as the entire Pistons team. The Thunder outscored the Pistons -- who played without perennial leading scorer Richard Hamilton -- 53-38 after halftime.
"We love playing with each other," said forward Kevin Durant, who tossed in his usual 25 points despite 8-of-19 shooting. "We love passing the ball and we always space the floor very well. We've still got to work on it, but tonight we spaced the floor out and got some wide-open shots."
That was evident during a 9-0 Oklahoma City run early in the fourth that gave it a 73-63 lead. All four baskets during that stretch came off assists. Durant had a transition dunk after reserve center Etan Thomas blocked a Rodney Stuckey shot and Jeff Green finished the run with a three-point play following another Thomas block.
Green also made unselfish plays on back-to-back possessions after the Pistons pulled within six, 81-75. He set up Thabo Sefolosha for a 3-pointer in the left corner, then found Durant for another three along the right wing. That made it 87-78 and effectively squelched the Pistons' hopes for a comeback.
"Coach [Scott Brooks] always talks about making the extra pass," Westbrook said. "We did it when we needed it."
The Pistons stopped doing that in alarming fashion. They had no assists in the last 13:56.
During the third quarter, they were guilty of over-dribbling and relying on perimeter shots. By the fourth quarter, their healthy guards -- Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum -- tried to win the game by themselves. They either drove into the teeth of the defense or fired away from long distance.
Stuckey and Bynum failed to give up the ball to open teammates on separate fast break attempts during the fourth quarter.
"We did not trust the offense in the fourth period," coach John Kuester. "We didn't move the ball the way we had in the past and you have to do that to make teams defend throughout the fourth quarter. We basically allowed them to load up on us."
It's games like these that make people wonder if Stuckey can be a starting point guard over the long haul. He scored 21 points but had just two assists, compared to three of Detroit's 16 turnovers.
Kuester tried to stave off those concerns.
"Rodney has been great," he said. "What's special about him and Will is they knew at times they hadn't gotten us into things we wanted to. They addressed that after the game."
Gordon had a team-high 25 points starting in place of Hamilton, who sprained his right ankle in Detroit's 96-74 victory over Memphis Wednesday night. Hamilton will also miss Saturday's road game at Milwaukee and there's no timetable for his return.
"No excuses," Kuester said. "Elements of the NBA -- travel, guys get sick, guys get injured. You've got to play. Our guys understand the challenges that have to occur when a player is not available."
Green (16 points) and rookie James Harden also played significant roles in the Thunder's win. Harden made eight assists in 17 minutes after having none in Oklahoma City's opening-night win over Sacramento.
"I can do it," he said. "I'm not just a shooting guard. I'm a penetrator but the most important thing is I like to create and get open shots for my teammates. That's what I tried to do today. They were open and finished well and knocked down some open shots."
Those are the kinds of things a maturing club needs.
"It's the first time we're ever over .500," Durant said. "It feels good, man. We've got to keep going."