A superb effort against the league’s highest-scoring team helped the Oklahoma City Thunder re-establish their defensive identity. The Thunder’s defense could face another test Sunday night.
Going for the team’s first 50-win season in five years, Oklahoma City looks for the franchise’s first series sweep of the up-tempo Golden State Warriors since 2001-02.
After three of their previous five opponents shot at least 52.1 percent from the field, the Thunder (49-30) limited Phoenix—the league’s top-scoring team at 110.1 points per game—to 45.3 percent shooting and 34 second-half points in Friday’s 96-91 victory.
“We want to become one of the better teams in basketball and we have to fix the problems as we see it,” coach Scott Brooks said after the Thunder snapped a two-game slide. “It’s always about fixing things, and right now we’re working on our defense and continue to have focus on that end.”
Oklahoma City, which is sixth in the Western Conference and just one-half game ahead of San Antonio, needs one victory to reach 50 for the first time since the Seattle SuperSonics went 52-30 in 2004-05, which was also when the team last appeared in the postseason.
The Thunder have won all three matchups with Golden State this season, posting a 104-95 victory in their last trip to Oakland on Feb. 6.
Kevin Durant(notes), the league’s leading scorer with 30.0 points per game, had 29 with eight rebounds while point guard Russell Westbrook(notes) added 21 points with 10 assists, a career-high eight steals and seven boards.
“He does a great job of filling up the stat sheet,” Durant said of Westbrook, who is scoring 20.3 points per game with 7.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 steals versus Golden State this season.
Durant doesn’t do a bad job of that either, averaging 34.0 points, 9.3 boards and 3.0 steals versus the Warriors in 2009-10.
While Durant and the Thunder are looking to close the two-game gap with the fifth-place Suns, Golden State (24-55) is just trying to close out its season on a positive note.
The Warriors, second in the league with 108.7 points per game, had won three of four prior to Saturday’s 107-104 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I don’t need to score to be effective,” said Curry, who is averaging 19.7 points and has made 7 of 13 from beyond the arc against Oklahoma City. “If I’m drawing defenders away so they can shoot jumpers, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. It just wasn’t enough tonight.”
Golden State, which plays two of its final three games at home, looks for back-to-back wins at Oracle Arena for the first time since Feb. 10 and 17.
Oklahoma City center Nenad Krstic(notes) could miss his second straight game with a right knee contusion. If he does, that will likely give more opportunities to rookie Serge Ibaka(notes), who matched a season high with 15 points and grabbed nine boards Friday.
The Thunder have won five of seven versus the Warriors since relocating from Seattle prior to last season.