OKLAHOMA CITY – Before his Charlotte Bobcats even took the floor against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bobcats coach Steve Clifford knew something was not right.
Clifford’s intuition turned out to be accurate as the Bobcats fell to the Thunder 116-99 Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We didn’t have the right mindset today,” Clifford said. “Starting this morning at shootaround. We didn’t have the mentality our team needed to play an elite team like this. I thought our energy level was low. We had poor energy to start the game.”
For 3 1/2 quarters, they had enough energy as they kept the game close. But the Thunder used a three-minute scoring outburst to put the contest away.
“The team kind of turned it on from there,” Thunder guard Reggie Jackson said. “We just got stops, tried to get out and run and use our athleticism to our advantage.”
The Thunder (45-15) led by eight when forward Kevin Durant hit a turnaround jumper at the 5:43 mark in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City’s defense then forced Charlotte into a shot-clock violation. That led to back-to-back layups by Durant and forward Serga Ibaka to push the advantage to 12 points.
Charlotte (27-32) was forced to call its second time out in less than two minutes. That didn’t prevent Ibaka from blocking a shot, assisting on point guard Russell Westbrook’s 3-pointer and then hitting his own shot from the top of the key.
After Jackson stole the ball from Charlotte guard Kemba Walker and went in for the easy layup, Oklahoma City’s lead had ballooned from six to 20 in less than three minutes. Both teams then began to clear their bench.
Durant finished the night with 28 points, shooting 8-for-24 from the field, to go along with five assists and six rebounds. As bad as his shooting numbers were, they were far from the worst shooting nights of his career, which was a 2-for-17 performance his rookie season.
“That’s what a good scorers does,” Bobcats center Al Jefferson said of Durant. “He’s going to find a way to be a part of the game. Y’all say we slowed them down, sounds like a great night to me.”
Westbrook scored 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting. Ibaka added 15 points and 10 rebounds while Jackson came off the bench to score 17.
Jefferson paced the Bobcats with 25 points and seven boards. Forward Anthony Tolliver added 17 points and guard Gary Neal scored 12.
With frigid temperatures outside the arena, Durant and Westbrook started the game on fire. The duo combined for 21 of the team’s first 31 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
“I was just trying to take my time,” Westbrook said. “I’ll take whatever shot is given to me, but at the same time to take my time and knock them down. The more I play, the more rhythm I’m able to catch and the more rhythm I’m able to get.”
However, the Bobcats stayed close behind their three-point shooting and Jefferson working over the Thunder big men in the paint. Ibaka and center Steven Adams had three fouls each in the first half trying to contend with Jefferson around the rim
But it was the ability of Charlotte to run its offense through forward Josh McRoberts that gave Oklahoma City the biggest problems. The Bobcats trailed 61-55 at halftime.
After his first-quarter start, Durant went cold and missed his next 14 shots. It wasn’t until Durant drove to the basket for a dunk over Tolliver that he got his first field goal of second half.
The Thunder led by four heading into the fourth.
“They are a great team,” Jefferson said. “You have to play 48 minutes against them. You can’t have too many mistakes.”
NOTES: The Charlotte Bobcats announced Sunday that the team has requested waivers on guard Ben Gordon, which ends his two-year run with the organization. Any team that picks him up will not be able to use him in this year’s postseason. A player who had waivers requested on him by his team after March 1 is ineligible for postseason play, as per the collective bargaining agreement. … Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the team is excited to have signed free agent forward Caron Butler to a contract. He also likes the fact he played at Connecticut. “Those guys all happen to have lineage,” Presti said. “We talk a lot about the characteristics we look for in players. One thing about the players from UConn, they are pretty tough-minded, physical guys. They’ve played in big games and played with other elite players.” … Thunder G Thabo Sefolosha will likely be out four to six weeks after an MRI confirmed he has a calf strain. F Perry Jones III started in his place.
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