By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma City knew it could play better. Despite cruising to one of the best records in the Western Conference, the team had looked almost disinterested since making its run to the NBA Finals last year.
That changed Wednesday when Los Angeles pulled into town for a pre-Thanksgiving battle. The Clips had owned the best record in the conference, but in front of a national TV audience, Oklahoma City held off L.A. 117-11 in overtime at the Chesapeake Energy Arena for its biggest win of the early season.
"I thought that was a hard fought basketball game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Both teams really laid it on the line. Our crowd was phenomenal. I thought it was like a playoff game if you want to say that in November."
The last time the Thunder played one of the elite teams in the league, it fell apart down the stretch. This time, they found a way to make the big plays when needed,
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles forward Matt Barnes sank two free throws to cut his team's deficit to 98-95. After the Clippers got a stop, Chris Paul had a chance to get his team to within one point, but he missed a layup, and Thunder forward Serge Ibaka got the rebound. He threw it out to Kevin Durant who scored an easy finger-roll layup.
However, a Barnes 3-pointer spearheaded a 7-2 Clippers run that tied the game at 102-102 with 35 seconds remaining.
The Thunder attempted to get the ball to Kevin Durant, but Blake Griffin denied him the entire way. Westbrook was left with an off-balance shot that bounced off the backboard.
Paul then had a chance to end the game in regulation, but his fade-away jumper over Westbrook was off the mark and send the game into the overtime.
In overtime, the Thunder took a five-point lead when Durant hit two free throws with 52 seconds left. Oklahoma City hit its free throws down the stretch to close out the game.
"We were trying to make him earn it," Barnes said. "He shot 21 free throws. That's kind of hard to swallow. With a great player like him, you want to be able to be physical. But they wouldn't let us be to physical tonight. It's frustrating. Can't really say anything about the refs cause I know they will fine me. This is a man's game. We have to be able to play. Nobody is trying to hurt each other. We just want to go out here and play hard and play basketball."
Durant scored a season-high 35 points -- nine of them in overtime -- and he added six rebounds, five assists and five steals for Oklahoma City (9-3). Westbrook contributed 23 points and nine assists for the Thunder.
Griffin paced the Clippers (8-3) with 23 points. Paul was held to nine points and nine assists. He said it was one of the worst games of his career.
"It's a tough loss," Paul said. "I think the most frustrating part is that we had the opportunity to win it and regardless of what anyone says it's going to be hard for us to win a game when I play that bad. It's tough because you work so hard, but there just going to be nights like that."
Oklahoma City started the game draining 3-pointers from all around the court. Westbrook hit the first one of the game, and Thabo Sefolosha followed with two more before the Clippers were forced to call a timeout.
The Thunder had a 10-point lead before a late Los Angeles run closed it to 28-22 heading into second quarter.
The strength of the Clippers in the early part of the season has been their bench. The leader of that unit has been Crawford, who tops the team in scoring. When he entered the game, Durant tried to guard him, but after Crawford scored seven quick points, Durant moved over to check Barnes.
The Clippers ran their offense through Griffin early. Griffin took 10 shots in the half, forcing the Thunder defense to converge on him, which left the team's perimeter shooters open.
Despite that, Los Angeles couldn't slow down Oklahoma City. After starting the game with jumpers, the Thunder started driving to the rim and picking up fouls. They went 14-for-16 from the line in the first half.
The Clippers closed the gap to 56-49 in the final seconds of the half before Serge Ibaka drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push lead back into double digits.
"I think we did a good job of getting steals, getting key rebounds," Westbrook said. "Getting out on the break. They made a few runs. But we withstood their runs and did a great job. Tonight was one of the great games we played defensively."