Saturday, April 06, 2013 12:10 am
Thunder wins 97-75 at Indiana to tie for West lead
By MICHAEL MAROTAP Sports Writer
Even if Indiana was playing on its home court with a division title at stake.
Durant overcame a bruised left calf to finish with 34 points and nine rebounds, while Westbrook had 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in a 97-75 blowout that sent Oklahoma City into a tie with San Antonio for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
"It's one of those things that it's great that it's happened, but we're not focusing on it," coach Scott Brooks said of the top seed. "We just want to continue to play good basketball and hopefully we continue to do that. It's a great opportunity for us."
This has already been a big week for Oklahoma City (56-20), which has won three straight and six of its past seven.
And things don't get much more impressive than what they've done over the past two days.
On Thursday night, Durant & Co. took down the Spurs 100-88 then flew to Indy.
Less than 16 hours after arriving at the team hotel, the Thunder handed the Central Division leaders their worst home loss of the season - and on a night the city was poised to celebrate Indiana's first division crown in nine seasons.
Now Oklahoma City takes a one-day break before hosting New York on Sunday afternoon.
It closes the season with only two of its final five games against teams that were in position to make the playoffs heading into Friday night - Golden State and Milwaukee - and with a chance to earn the coveted top spot in the West.
Not surprisingly, Durant has been the key.
After limping to the locker room at halftime when he got kicked in the calf, the three-time NBA scoring champ returned in the second half to score 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting, almost single-handedly pushing Oklahoma City on every big scoring charge.
"It's always tough playing back-to-backs no matter what, especially home and away," said Durant, who leads the league in scoring.
"We played a tough, tough team last night and then playing a team that plays so hard, plays so well in this building, you know it's going to be tough. So we just wanted to come out and play hard for 48 minutes tonight and we'll rest up tomorrow."
The Thunder wound up beating Indiana at its own game.
They dominated the Pacers (48-28) on the glass 53-31 and outplayed the NBA's best defensive team. Indiana shot just 37.5 percent from the field and was a dismal 2 of 21 from 3-point range as its five-game winning streak ended.
Roy Hibbert led Indiana with 22 points and eight rebounds, while David West had 17 points and George Hill finished with 10. Nobody else reached double figures.
The loss will likely only delay the celebration for Indiana (48-28), which hasn't won a division crown since 2003-04 and has only four division titles in the franchise's NBA history.
The Pacers also could have wrapped up the division with a Chicago loss Friday, but the Bulls held on for an 87-86 win over Orlando.
So Indiana will get its next chance to win a division title without Reggie Miller on Saturday at Washington.
But the loss could prove more costly in the overall picture. New York's 101-83 win over Milwaukee leaves the Pacers 1 1/2 games behind the Knicks in the chase for the No. 2 seed in the East.
"Our goal above all else was to win the division, so we have to regroup tonight, prepare tomorrow for Washington which has been playing tough at home and go out and try to clinch this thing," West said.
For the first three quarters, the game lived up to its billing between two of the NBA's top teams.
Durant changed everything in the fourth quarter.
He scored the first six points in a 9-0 run, turning a 72-67 lead after three quarters into an 81-67 cushion early in the fourth. And when it looked as if the Pacers might rally midway through the fourth, Durant closed off that charge, too, with back-to-back 18-footers and a 3-pointer that made it 88-74 with 4:37 to go.
Indiana never challenged again in a game that featured 12 lead changes and 10 ties in the first half.
"We've matured as a team," Westbrook said. "We're doing a good job of playing together at the right time. Mentally, we wanted to come out and play the right way. It was important for us to come out and be aggressive. We didn't want to wait around and see how they were going to play."
Notes: Indiana will not play another team from the West unless it reaches the NBA Finals. ... Oklahoma City won both games against Indiana this season. ... The Pacers have won five straight games three times this season but have yet to win six in a row. ... The Thunder, the NBA's top free-throw shooting team, were 19 of 23 from the line.