As he strolled to the free-throw line, Nick Collison stared up at the scoreboard, trying his best to think about not thinking. With his team trailing by one with 4.5 seconds remaining, Collison used every mind trick in his might to forget the Thunder’s season-worst shooting at the stripe.
Oklahoma City, the league’s best foul shooting team at 80.1 percent, had made 12 of 26 attempts when Collison stepped to the line. Collison had missed three of his first four by the time he had a chance to decide the team’s fate.
Collison launched the first attempt, rolling it around every inch of the rim before it fell through. Tie game.
"It was definitely a relief when it went in,” Collison said.
The second was never in doubt.
But the party didn’t start for a sellout New Year’s Eve crowd of 18,203 inside the Ford Center until Ronnie Price short-armed a 21-footer from the right baseline that wrapped up an 87-86 Thunder win over Utah on Thursday night.
As Price’s shot ricocheted off the side of the rim, Kevin Durant jumped up and down, letting out a ferocious roar. His Thunder teammates met him at halfcourt with chest bumps and high-fives. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan berated the refs, seemingly for the foul call on Paul Millsap that sent Collison to the line. And balloons and confetti rained down from the rafters.
The Thunder won its fifth straight game, moving to 18-14 despite myriad mistakes that saw Utah score 62 points in the paint, the Thunder shoot a season-low 50 percent from the free-throw line (14-for-28) and Oklahoma City turn the ball over 20 times.
"Missed free throws, that’s surprising,” Brooks said. "We don’t expect that going into any game...But that was nice to see Nick, after a bad free throw shooting game, make two. That’s a great feeling for him.”
The Thunder’s previous low from the free-throw line was 60.9 percent against Dallas on Dec.