Thunder clinches playoff berth with win over Trail Blazers
The Thunder blew a 15-point first-half lead and All-Star Kevin Durant shot 0 for 8 from the field in the second half.
Yet somehow in the process, OKC still managed to clinch its second straight playoff spot thanks to a 99-90 victory over Portland on Sunday night inside Oklahoma City Arena.
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“That’s a sign we’re getting better,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “There was a time a few years back that if Kevin goes 0 for 8, there’s a good chance that we don’t win this game. Guys have to step up. There’s always going to be a different guy.”
Multiple players stepped up against the Trail Blazers, led by All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who in the fourth quarter scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, which included going 3 for 3 from 3-point range.
“He is turning into a big-time player,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said of the 22-year-old Westbrook. “He is making big plays.”
There also was timely team defense, with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka getting back-to-back blocks in the same sequence that resulted in a Westbrook breakaway layup with 52.9 seconds left to give the Thunder a 94-88 lead.
“They do a good job protecting the basket,” Brooks said of Perkins and Ibaka. “They compliment each other very well. Russell stepped up tonight and James (Harden) has been stepping up for about a month now. It’s just part of being a team. Somebody will have to step up.”
When the Thunder clinched a playoff spot last season, roughly 100 fans greeted the team early Easter Sunday outside a private hanger at Will Rogers World Airport after its return trip from Dallas.
On Sunday, the 31st sellout crowd (18,203) of the season was there to roar its approval.
“It feels good,” Durant said. “A couple of years ago (23-59 overall with 3-29 start), we were the worst team ever.”
OKC (48-24) is now 3-0 against the Blazers (42-31) this season and 12-2 in March.