Not a soul on Oklahoma City’s side would dare confess to it before the game.
But the fact remained.
The Thunder needed a win Wednesday in the worse way. Not because wins have been in short supply this season, but because quality wins against quality opponents have been non-existent, calling into question how good this revamped Thunder team really is in the early part of this season.
“This is our 12th game,” Kevin Durant rebutted 90 minutes prior to tip. “It’s November.”
For once, the Thunder didn’t play like it.
Facing the red hot Los Angeles Clippers, the Thunder strung together one of its best performances yet and watched it result in an encouraging 117-111 overtime victory before a raucous sellout crowd of 18,203 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was like a playoff game…in November,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
It wasn’t a beauty, and the Clippers did everything possible to make it tough, but the Thunder finally notched its second win against a team with a winning record. This one moved the Thunder to 9-3 and came over a Clippers squad that rode into town on a league-best six-game winning streak, with a sparkling 8-2 record and the NBA’s last unblemished road record at 3-0.
The Thunder’s previous eight wins had come against opponents with a combined 26-44 record, a 0.371 winning percentage. OKC’s lone win against a team that currently sports a winning record came Sunday against now 6-5 Golden State.
Other conference leaders, like the Clippers for instance, have displayed early dominance by securing solid wins against the likes of San Antonio (twice), Miami, Memphis and the Lakers.
On Wednesday, the Thunder sent its first message, overcame 19 turnovers and an off shooting night from Kevin Durant, who after the final buzzer finally fessed up to the Thunder needing a signature win.
“(Kendrick Perkins) said before we’re 0-2 against the top teams against the West right now,” Durant said. “So it felt good to finally get one of those wins. We can move on now.”
A smart defensive scheme sparked the Thunder and led to OKC shutting down Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who scored just nine points on 2-for-14 shooting. Brooks started the game with defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha assigned to Paul and moved Russell Westbrook over to lesser threat Willie Green. That one wrinkle set the tone, as Paul started 0-for-7 before making his first field goal with 3:19 remaining in the third quarter.
His last bucket came on a too-little-too-late layup with 11.9 seconds remaining in overtime.
Sefolosha’s height made it hard for Paul to see over him, while his length and relentless effort against Paul thwarted the Clippers’ preferred pick-and-roll game.
“Thabo does a good job,” Brooks said. “Thabo’s one of those guys where he just stays with the basketball. He just keeps pursuing. Screens don’t bother him. He makes that decision that you’re not going to screen me and he’s going to fight through every pick. And he does a good job of staying in front of the basketball.”