OKLAHOMA CITY -- After blowing out the New Orleans Hornets in the teams' two previous matchups, the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn't expecting a tough night Wednesday. However, the Thunder found themselves in a battle at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
After a slow start, Kevin Durant showed why he is once again an MVP candidate, scoring 13 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 92-88 victory.
The win was the ninth in a row for Oklahoma City (18-4), but the Thunder's string of 12 consecutive games scoring more than 100 points ended. But even a team fresh off a trip to the NBA finals can still learn things about itself.
"It's a long season," Durant said. "You have to take it a game at a time. I think last game and this game were a good test for us to see how we are going to fight through adversity. We had been making shots lately and for us to miss and miss over and over, to stick with our defense was really inspiring us to keep playing."
The Hornets (5-16) had their chances to steal the win. With less than two minutes left, New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis hit four consecutive free throws to get his team within two points.
Oklahoma City then went to Durant, who drove into the lane and was fouled as he made the layup. The ensuing free throw gave the Thunder an 89-84 advantage.
"Coach is always telling me to be extra aggressive," Durant said. "I just found some lanes and my teammates did a great job of drawing and kicking, and I made some shots."
After another Davis free throw, the Hornets came up with an offensive rebound, and Brian Roberts knocked down a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left, slicing New Orleans' deficit to 89-88.
Durant hit one of two from the line, and New Orleans had one last chance to tie or win the game with eight seconds remaining. The Hornets got the ball to Greivis Vasquez, but Kendrick Perkins forced him into an off-balance 3-point shot that missed the mark. New Orleans missed the tip-in, and Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha put the game away with two free throws.
Vasquez wasn't happy with his final shot, but he did like how the team responded.
"I think tonight it was the way we play, "Vasquez said. "We played hard. We played aggressive. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game, especially against one of the best teams in the West. Coming into their house, the way we did tonight, we showed we are growing. We just have to play with effort and intensity. We may not be the most talented team, but we are going to put a good effort from now on."
Roberts paced New Orleans with 16 points off the bench on 6-for-14 shooting. Ryan Anderson scored 14, but only four of his points came in the last three quarters.
Kevin Martin came off the bench to score 17 for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook shot 4-for-14 en route to 14 points, but he dished out nine assists.
"That's what a championship-caliber team does, they go on runs," Roberts said of the Thunder. "Especially at home. We braced ourselves for it. We talked about it at halftime, but we just came up a little bit short tonight."
Anderson single-handedly kept the Hornets in the game early on. The sharp-shooting power forward had 10 of the teams first 14 points.
But it was New Orleans' team defense that gave it a 19-17 lead heading into the second period. The 17 points was the lowest first-quarter total for Oklahoma City this year.
The Hornets stretched their lead to 10 points with less than four minutes left in the second quarter. As if on cue, the Thunder and their fans woke up. Durant and Westbrook scored the next six points to close gape to 36-32.
However, the Thunder still trailed 44-36 at halftime in their lowest scoring output of season. Their previous halftime low was 40 points.
"We just competed and they missed a lot of shots," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Earlier in the game they were passing up shots because I don't think they had their rhythm. But I'm certainly glad we were there to contest."
The Thunder's futility extended into the third quarter. While Durant was able to find his stroke, the rest of the team stayed cold from the field.
New Orleans wasn't much better, but it crashed the boards and collected second-chance points to go ahead by 11.
However, fresh of his stint with the Tulsa 66ers in the D-League, Reggie Jackson came off the bench in the final minutes to help spark a 7-0 run to end the period and close gap to 62-58.
"I thought Reggie impacted the game when he came in, and that's hard to do," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He hasn't played much, but he's always working and he's always ready for an opportunity and he came in and did very well."