It was a performance that did nothing to restore the faith of an increasingly concerned fan base, and in fact the Thunder’s nail-biting 112-111 victory over Detroit in the regular season finale on Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena only doused more doubt onto this team as it prepares for the postseason.
But in the end, all that mattered was the Thunder secured the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, assuring OKC will have home-court advantage through at least the semifinals.
The first-round opponent will be the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that knocked OKC out of the postseason last year while Russell Westbrook was recovering from knee surgery. Game 1 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
“We’re excited,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We play a long season. Every team goes through a long NBA season to get ready for this part of the year. Our guys are excited…They know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Kevin Durant capped what will likely be his first MVP season with a 42-point effort, scoring 21 in the fourth quarter to lead a crazy comeback. The Thunder trailed, 87-79, going into the fourth quarter and stared at a 10-point deficit inside the final 10 minutes.
Durant supplied the game-winner with a driving dunk off an inbounds pass from Westbrook with 16.5 seconds remaining. Pistons guard Brandon Jennings hit the front of the rim on a 31-foot leaning heave at the buzzer.
“We just figured it out and got it done,” Durant said. “It wasn’t the best game. We didn’t play well defensively. We didn’t shoot the ball well offensively. But it’s something about just getting it done and having that will power and having that fight in you no matter what. Through a tough game, we persevered and we got a good win.”
Durant finished the season with a career-best 32-point scoring average. He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo and Michael Jordan as the only players in the last 45 NBA seasons to average at least 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
When the Thunder needed him most, Durant once again delivered, putting away the Pistons with non-stop attacks on the rim.
“He just started attacking,” said Pistons rookie guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “He didn’t settle in the fourth. I think most everything was at the rim…A guy that good, once he starts attacking it’s going to be hard to stop him.”
Caldwell-Pope became the latest opponent to erupt for a career-high against the Thunder’s defense. He scored a team-high 30 points, one of four Pistons with at least 20 points. Detroit diced up OKC all game, shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and scoring 30 points in the opening quarter and 32 in the third period.
But in the final three minutes, the Thunder finally buckled down and played defense, hounding Detroit into 0-for-6 shooting and a turnover.
“It was about time we did something,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “Seriously, though. We didn’t do nothing the whole game as a team, including myself. We kind of eased into the game in a must-win situation to get the No. 2 seed. And they came out and was in attack mode like they had something to play for.”
It was a game most assumed would end in a runaway Thunder victory. It turned out to be a dogfight but one the Thunder will try to turn into a positive going into the playoffs.
“This was good for us,” said Caron Butler, “because it’s going to come down to possession basketball in the playoffs when you’re playing good teams.”