PORTLAND — This, by far, was the toughest test yet.
On the road, in a hostile environment, against a dominant home team — a team that is the only club that can claim it has beaten the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
And though it took the first overtime period of the season to get it done, the Thunder finally finished off the Portland Trail Blazers with a 111-107 victory on Monday night inside the Rose Garden.
Kevin Garnett would approve if you deemed it a bar fight.
By surviving, the Thunder bumped its league-best record to 19-5 and moved to 10-4 on the road after an uncharacteristically poor showing two nights earlier at San Antonio.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with a team-high 33 points, and Russell Westbrook added 28 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Serge Ibaka provided 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, James Harden scored 19 points off the bench and Kendrick Perkins pulled down 10 rebounds in addition to scoring six points to cap a total team effort.
“I’m just glad we got the win, man,” said Durant. “It was one of those wins where we come back in the locker room a little bit emotional.”
Two nights after Spurs guard Tony Parker shattered his individual scoring record for this season against the Thunder, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge threatened to take it right back. Aldridge, who scored 30 against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Jan. 3, finished with 39 points, three shy of Parker’s 42 from Saturday at AT&T Center in San Antonio.
Aldridge connected on 14 of 28 shots but went 0-for-3 in the overtime session.
The Thunder’s shutdown defense on Aldridge in overtime, largely a credit to Perkins, was a microcosm of how Oklahoma City put the clamps on Portland as a whole in the extra period.
The Thunder held the Blazers to four points on 1-for-9 shooting in the extra session.
“I thought Perk was the difference-maker,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It’s kind of weird to say that when the guy he was guarding had 39, but he made him work for every shot. His activity, his rebounding, his defense, his toughness I thought won this game."
No sequence was better than the game-clinching defensive stop.
After the Blazers inbounded the ball with 30.6 seconds left to play and OKC ahead by two, the Thunder swarmed every Blazers player with even the slightest chance of again tying the score. Westbrook crowded Jamal Crawford. Perkins played Aldridge tight. Ibaka showed a hard double team on Aldridge when he made his catch on an entry pass and rotated quickly back to his man, Kurt Thomas.
By then, the Thunder had forced the Blazers into burning precious seconds off the shot clock, and Crawford had to throw up a wild shot while falling out of bounds.
Perkins blocked it and, ultimately, it landed in the hands of Durant, who raced the other way for a dunk that iced it.
“It’s just talking and communication,” Perkins said of that defensive possession. “You’ve got to give credit to the coaching staff. They called the play out. Russ kept pursuing. And you just never give up on the play. You especially can’t give a guy like Crawford a clean look at the basket. He’s known for hitting (game-tying shots) and game-winners.”
The Thunder might have benefited from a questionable no-call on a goaltend by Aldridge on a driving layup attempt by Durant that made it a 103-103 game with six seconds left in regulation. But even on video replay, it’s unclear whether Aldridge touched the ball before it hit the backboard.
Nevertheless, the Thunder moved to 4-1 after a loss, and is now 24-7 over the past two seasons following a defeat.
This one was as impressive as it gets.
The Blazers entered Monday night with the second best home record in the league at 11-1. Portland had won five straight home games since dropping its lone game inside the Rose Garden, a three-point loss against Orlando on Jan. 11.
In their 11 home wins, the Blazers have won by an average margin of 18.3 points, winning by 20 or more five times, by 30 or more twice and by 40 or more once.
“I think this was a great win for us,” Perkins said. “I think we can just build off of this and keep going.
“But I’m pretty satisfied with the win and how we did it. We needed one of these grind-out type of games in this type of atmosphere against a tough team like Portland.”