PORTLAND, Ore. — A quick recap of what transpired Sunday night before we share the punch line.
* Fourth-string guard DeAndre Liggins played more minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers than three-time scoring Kevin Durant.
* For the first time all season, the Thunder did not have its usual starting lineup. Serge Ibaka (chest contusion) and Thabo Sefolosha (neck strain) were sidelined with injuries. Liggins and Nick Collison were the replacement starters.
* Russell Westbrook shot 5 for 21 from the field, yet sealed the game with his clutch shooting.
* Kevin Martin, one of the league's premier 3-point shooters all season, went 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.
* Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 33 points and shot 15 for 26 from the field, and everyone in the OKC locker room commended Kendrick Perkins for his defense on the man.
Mix it all together and what do you get? Would you believe an 87-83 victory at one of NBA's toughest road venues?
Many on the OKC roster considered this triumph at the Rose Garden the most rewarding of the season, given the circumstances.
A familiar face threw the most daggers at the Blazers as Durant overcame first-half foul trouble to finish with 33 points, shooting 12 for 21 from the field.
Liggins delivered some body blows himself and nearly finished with a double-double while making his first NBA start in 31 career appearances.
Liggins had 11 points and went 3 for 3 from 3-point range. He also added nine rebounds, two assists and a steal. Collison added eight points on 4-of-5 shooting.
Asked what his goal was as a starter, Liggins calmly explained: “It's pretty simple — defend as hard as I could and find some open shots. My job is to come in and play as hard as I could. The thing about me is I know my role. I know what I have to do to help this team win.”
Liggins played 23 seconds longer than Durant. “He deserved it,” Durant said.
“He wasn't coming out,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Liggins. “We needed his energy tonight. He showed that in training camp … that he can make an impact.”
Liggins played so long he cramped up in the final minutes. “I'll be fine,” he said afterward.
What Westbrook lacked in field-goal shooting he more than made up for defensively by making life miserable for Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard, who shot just 3 for 14 from the floor and finished with nine points after scoring a career-high 37 at Golden State two nights earlier.
Westbrook sealed the victory by making two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to set the final margin.
The soft-spoken Liggins smiled while admitting Sunday was his greatest moment as a pro.
“It's a blessing,” he said. “I played well today, but my thing is to get better every day and try to learn. I've still got a long way to go, working on my shooting. It's getting better, but it could be a lot better.”
Did Liggins battle nerves?
“A little bit, but that's part of the game,” Liggins said. “If you're not nervous, I mean, that's normal. With my competitiveness, it goes away quick.”
The status of Ibaka and Sefolosha for Monday night's game at Phoenix is uncertain, but there is no doubt who will start in their place if they're not able to play.