Before the Thunder put a bow on its latest blowout, a 99-82 win over Charlotte, it had to bear one final surge by the Bobcats.
It came at the start of the fourth quarter Friday night. Against the Thunder's reserves, the Bobcats scored on each of their first six possessions in the final period, cutting a nine-point deficit down to four with 8:13 left to play.
What came next was a stretch of some of the most impressive defense the Thunder has displayed all season. Oklahoma City held Charlotte scoreless on 11 of its next 12 possessions, breaking open the game with a 15-2 run that put the home team up 96-79 and removed all doubt about the final outcome.
The Thunder closed the game by pressuring the Bobcats into missing 13 of their final 15 shots. Over that eight-minute span, Charlotte also committed five turnovers.
This, just two nights after a defensive performance at Miami that Thunder coach Scott Brooks labeled “as good as it could possibly play.”
“They just wanted this game more, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Charlotte coach Paul Silas. “They made plays and we turned the ball over and didn't make shots. They just kept playing harder and harder and they just wanted to win more than we did.”
No sequence illustrated the Thunder's thirst for its season-high sixth straight victory more than the sneaky steal Russell Westbrook secured with 2:55 left to play. Westbrook had just made two free throws, and as Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson inbounded the ball Westbrook stepped in front of D.J. Augustin to intercept the pass before converting a two-handed dunk.
It put the Thunder ahead 94-79. Westbrook woofed and swung his arms, boiling over with emotion as he finally landed on a hustle play that helped him overcome his 6-for-16 shooting night.
“That was another big play by Russell,” Brooks said.
The Thunder has now won nine of its past 10 to improve to 45-23. Against Eastern Conference teams, the Thunder is now 22-6. More impressively, the Thunder moved to 21-3 against sub. 500 teams. Only San Antonio and Miami have a better record against bad teams.
In its past seven games against teams below .500, OKC has won by an average of 21.6 points.
“Focus in knowing these are games we're supposed to win,” explained Thunder guard Daequan Cook. “Not losing sight of that.”
Friday's victory also was a fitting opening to the current six-game home stand. With Toronto coming in Sunday prior to visits by Utah, Minnesota, Portland and Golden State, the Thunder has a chance to close out the month in grand fashion. With Dallas losing to San Antonio on Friday, the Thunder trails the Mavericks for the Western Conference's No. 3 seed by just 2 1/2 games with 14 left to play.
“We got to take one game at a time but also know in the back of our minds we still got an opportunity to be in third place,” Cook said. “It's important for us to get the wins we need to get to continue the win streak.”