Thunder count on Durant at crunch time

John Delong, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- When the going gets tough, the Oklahoma City Thunder turn to defense and forward Kevin Durant.
That was the winning combination again as the Thunder held off the Charlotte Bobcats 89-85 on Friday night.
Durant had 34 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, including two huge 3-pointers down the stretch.
The Thunder held the Bobcats to 37.5 percent shooting from the field and got a key stop to hold on when Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left.
The Thunder, 24-5 and winners of 19 of their last 21, were playing their first game without guard Russell Westbrook, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday and could be out until after the All-Star break.
Durant credited the Thunder's defense for the win on a night when the Thunder shot just 41.3 percent from the field.
"That was two great defensive teams going at it," Durant said. "We wanted to match their energy at the defensive end. I thought we did a good job of closing the paint up and contesting shots. We couldn't make shots at the other end, but we didn't let it dictate our defense, and that's how we won."
Charlotte's top two scorers, guard Kemba Walker and center Al Jefferson, combined to go 13 of 33 from the field.
"That's what we take pride in," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We're a defensive team. We take pride in every possession. The guys talk about it before the game, at halftime and during timeouts.
"Our defense was superb tonight. We won the game by locking up defensively. We did a good job of making them miss and not hoping that they miss. That was our mentality and they stepped up, and that's why I'm proud of our guys."
Durant hit just two of his first nine shots from the field, but down the stretch he was basically unstoppable. He scored 10 of Oklahoma City's final 13 points. The others were a free throw by guard Reggie Jackson with 10.7 seconds left and two by guard Thabo Sefolosha with 3.5 seconds left.
"We put him in situations where he can attack," Brooks said of Durant. "He puts a lot of pressure on the defense. With his length, he can shoot over the top and pass over the top. He's a great player. That's nothing that we don't already know.
"He's a great player. He makes winning basketball plays. Tonight, he was making shots for himself, but he was making plays for others, too. He led us in assists. He's just an amazing player and tonight he had a great finish."
The Thunder also got 12 points each from Sefolosha and forward Serge Ibaka, and 10 each from Jackson and guard Jeremy Lamb. Jackson, who started in place of Westbrook, was just 4 of 19 from the field.
"It's definitely a blow to lose (Westbrook)," Durant said. "It's definitely frustrating.
"Basketball, I don't care about that, but for somebody that loves the game so much and was having so much fun being with this team and playing the best basketball of his career, for this to happen, I feel for him. We are all brothers and we all feel for him. So the best thing we can do to honor him is to just play as hard as we can every night."
Charlotte, which had won four of its previous five, fell to 14-16. Walker finished with 18 points, Jefferson 16, guard Gerald Henderson 14 and McRoberts 13. Jefferson also had 11 rebounds.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford surprisingly was upset with his team's play.
"You might think I am happy, but I'm not," Clifford said. "I didn't like our defense. Our attention to detail was not there at all.
"Our effort on the glass was not near where it needed to be. It was a lack of concentration, a lack of diligence, a lack of attention to detail. You have to take away a team's strengths. We gave up six backdoor layups. We've gone weeks without doing that."
NOTES: Thunder G Russell Westbrook's arthroscopic surgery on Friday was his third such procedure since April, when he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee. He also had surgery in October shortly before the start of training camp. ... The Bobcats got good news on Friday as the cast was removed from F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's fractured left hand. There is still no timetable for his return. ... The Bobcats are also without C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) and F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles). ... Thunder F Kevin Durant came into the game averaging 28.1 ppg, which leads the league. He is also averaging career highs in rebounding (8.0) and assists (4.8). Durant now has six games with more than 30 points and 10 rebounds already this season. He had four such games all of last season. ... The Bobcats closed out a three-game homestand. They'll play at Atlanta on Saturday, then will head west to play Utah, the LA Clippers, Portland and Sacramento. ... The Thunder will return home to face Houston on Sunday.

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