CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Thunder offense looked a bit slower, a bit more stagnant and a bit less explosive on Friday in Charlotte.
Not a surprise. Russell Westbrook is gone. And for an extended time, he won’t be back. So Oklahoma City, naturally, is a worse team.
But that doesn’t mean the Westbrook-less Thunder are a bad team. Far from it.
As shown in OKC’s 89-85 victory over the Bobcats, you can win plenty of games in this league with a pair of D’s — Kevin Durant and a lot of defense.
“Give our guys credit,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the win. “It was an emotional day, with Russell, but I thought we did a good job of handling that.”
From the tip, it started on the defensive end. Even while Durant, and everyone not named Serge Ibaka, struggled to make shots in the first half, the Thunder clamped down on the Bobcats.
At halftime, OKC was shooting an ugly 35 percent. Ibaka was 4-of-6 — everyone else was a combined 11-of-36.
But despite that, the Thunder held a six-point lead at the break. Charlotte, looking out of sorts, had eight turnovers and only 36 points on 36 percent shooting.
“I thought our defense was superb tonight,” Brooks said. “We did a good job of making them miss shots and not hoping they’d miss. That’s our mentality.”
And that’s what has been the key of this recent Thunder surge. OKC has won seven straight road games — a franchise record since the relocation from Seattle — and 19 of its last 21 games.
And during that 21-game streak, the Thunder is holding opponents to 40.6 percent shooting. No team shot better than 48 percent. All but two shot below 45 percent.
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