3 Blocked shots by Hasheem Thabeet, along with two steals, in only nine minutes of play

7-for-9 Shooting numbers for Serge Ibaka, who finished with 16 points

8 Rebounds by Kendrick Perkins, who also added four assists and a steal

10 Assists for Russell Westbrook, to go with his 29 points and six rebounds

12 Steals for the Thunder on the night, including three by Kevin Martin

24-17 Points off turnovers differential in the Thunder’s favor

35 Points for Kevin Durant, in addition to nine rebounds, four assists and two steals

48-34 Points in the paint advantage for the Thunder

March 3rd, 2013

No lead is safe in the NBA, and while on Sunday the Thunder let its 19-point advantage go briefly, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad immediately recovered.

In Los Angeles against the Clippers, another top-3 team in the Western Conference, the Thunder played a brilliant first half, building a 13-point advantage at the break through its defense and unselfish offense. The Clippers, behind All-Star Chris Paul, made their inevitable run in the third and fourth quarters, eventually taking a one-point lead with a minute and a half to go. Under the guidance of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, however, the Thunder went on a 5-0 run to get the 108-104 victory. It was a show of resolve, mettle and maturity for Brooks’ squad to battle through and come away with the win.

“We’ve grown up a lot as a team,” Durant said to ESPN’s Heather Cox. “We’ve been through situations like this. We just kept saying, ‘Weather the storm, it’ll get better.’”

The first half saw the Thunder force 16 Clippers turnovers and make nine of its 12 steals in the game. With a nice defensive burst from Hasheem Thabeet, who had three blocks and two steals in nine minutes, the Thunder out-hustled the Clippers in quarters one and two. Forcing Los Angeles into 2-for-11 shooting from three was equally as important as the 37 combined points from Durant and Westbrook as the Thunder took a 54-41 advantage into half. It was clear from the start that the Thunder was focused on defending one of the league’s best offenses first and foremost.

“Just being aggressive,” Westbrook said to ESPN’s Heather Cox. “I think tonight we came out with a defensive mindset.”

While that defense was essential throughout the night, it was never more important than in the final minute and a half when the Thunder outscored the Clippers 9-4 to end the game. Thabo Sefolosha got great positioning on the defensive glass to draw a foul on Blake Griffin on one possession, then Serge Ibaka flew in to block a shot and his teammates scrambled to contest three-pointers on the Clippers’ final possession.

On the offensive end, Westbrook truly took over, helping carve up the Clippers’ zone defense that had somewhat stifled the Thunder in the second half. Westbrook sliced through the lane for an easy layup, then found Ibaka for a layup plus the foul after two defenders jumped out to trap the Thunder’s All-Star point guard in a pick-and-roll. Finally, his fellow team leader, Durant, drove and found Westbrook for perhaps the most important shot of the game – a 16-foot jumper along the left baseline to ice the game.

“I was trying to find my teammates and be a decoy out there,” Durant said to Cox. “Guys were making shots for us and we played great defense at the end.”

Throughout the night the Thunder had 23 assists, including ten from its electric point guard and Los Angeles native, Westbrook, who also had 29 points and six rebounds. Durant finished with 35 points, while Ibaka had 16, and Kevin Martin and Sefolosha chipped in ten and nine respectively. Aside from a tough stretch early in the fourth quarter, the ball ping-ponged around the floor for the Thunder on the offensive end, and it did so particularly well at the end when the team needed it the most.

“I think we did a great job of moving the ball and finding the open guy,” Durant said to Cox. “We got a good win.”

Turning Point:
The Thunder’s once dominant 19-point lead had been erased and the Clippers took a 101-100 advantage with only 1:30 remaining in the game. After a well-time Scott Brooks timeout, the Thunder immediately went on a 5-0 run, creating enough of a cushion for its overall 9-4 run to close out the game to be the difference. The run started by the Thunder’s ability to attack the Clippers’ zone defense, namely by the brilliance of Russell Westbrook. The point guard drove to the lane for a layup after splitting the defense, then found Serge Ibaka one possession later for an and-one layup. After the Clippers hit two free throws, Westbrook pump faked on the left wing then calmly knocked down a 16-foot jumper to give the Thunder a 106-102 lead with 26.7 seconds remaining. Brooks’ squad played solid defense on the Clippers’ final possession, taking home the win.

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Nice work by Sefolosha to use his length to create a steal then he did a good job of executing the two-on-one fast break. Perfect psot defense by Perkins on Griffin to force a difficult missed shot. Nice job on the offensive glass by Perkins to hustle for a second opportunity, then awareness to find Durant for a three. Wonderful concentration on defense by Westbrook and Durant to force a 24-second shot clock violation.

Plays the box score won't show:
Good work on the defensive end by Westbrook to not jump at Chris Paul’s pump-fakes to force a difficult possession. Great defensive possession by Sefolosha to get in front of Paul’s path and knock him out of rhythm. Collison hustles on the offensive glass to snare a few rebounds and create extra possessions. Smart play by Durant to slap a defensive rebound off the backboard to Westbrook. Collison plays good defense to force a Clippers turnover.

“We love a physical game. We’re not going to back down from anything. This is a great team, we respect them. They’ve been playing well this year, but we wanted to come in here and get a win.” – Kevin Durant