Long before tip off, the Thunder knew full well what type of test was on deck Monday night.
The struggling Phoenix Suns were in town and in search of a signature win.
“If they win in our building that kind of turns around their season,” Kevin Durant said at the team’s morning shootaround. “So we got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Though it took longer than expected, Oklahoma City ultimately took care of business, outlasting the Suns for a 114-96 win in the league’s final game on the final day of 2012.
The win, the Thunder’s fifth straight on New Year’s Eve, moved the Thunder to 24-6.
It was a closer contest than anticipated considering the Suns, with an 11-20 record, came in as the second worst team in the Western Conference. Phoenix also has been horrid all year on the road. Monday’s loss, the Suns’ sixth straight, dropped Phoenix to 2-14 in opposing buildings.
Kevin Durant led all players with 30 points, Serge Ibaka scored 16 with seven rebounds and Thabo Sefolosha added 14 points.
The Thunder got a major scare in the final two minutes of the second quarter when Russell Westbrook had to leave the game after Suns forward Luis Scola inadvertently elbowed him in the face. Westbrook was immediately taken to the locker room and received an undisclosed number of stitches before returning to the game midway through the third quarter. He finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists while playing with a small bandage above his right eye.
Surprisingly, OKC pulled away while Westbrook was in the locker room. With reserve guard Reggie Jackson starting the third period in place of Westbrook, the Thunder scored 12 unanswered points to build a 13-point lead after leading just 54-53 at halftime.
The Thunder benefited from its best ball security of the season, finishing with a season-low five turnovers. The team’s previous low was 10, set at Detroit on Nov. 12. Phoenix, which can be a pest in transition, scored just four points off the Thunder’s giveaways. OKC, on the other hand, scored 17 points off 15 Suns turnovers.
But the Suns refused to get run out of town.
After the Thunder built a 14-point lead, threatening to blow the game open with 3:56 left to play in the third, the Suns went on a 20-8 spurt over the next seven minutes to pull within two.
An unlikely spark emerged and ignited the Thunder in the final quarter. It was Nick Collison. The reserve forward scored back-to-back buckets that kept the Suns at bay. He then secured a pivotal offensive rebound for a second-chance opportunity that ended in a Sefolosha 3-pointer. And just before exiting the game, Collison drew a charge on Markieff Morris with 6:20 remaining. Durant made a pair of free throws at the other end to put the Thunder ahead by nine with 6:09 left to play.
Collison finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Thunder went on a 12-4 run from there and led by as many as 20.