OKLAHOMA CITY — During an eight-game winning streak, the Oklahoma City Thunder played some their best basketball of the season.
Then the Thunder coaching staff decided to rest Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.
Even though both Durant and Ibaka were back in the lineup Thursday, the team was still out of sync when it hosted the undermanned Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder needed some late-game heroics by Steven Adams to pull out an 119-117 victory over the Clippers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was definitely hard because they are playing with nothing to lose,” Durant said. “They are out there playing loose and free. But we persevered, and (we were) able to get a stop and win the game. It was a weird game to play.”
Durant scored 31 points to lead Oklahoma City (53-23). He shot 10-for-22 from the field and only 1-for-8 from 3-point range as he scored at least 20 points for the 60th consecutive game.
“I hold myself up to a high standard every single day,” Durant said. “I work as hard as I can every single day. I expect to do things like that.”
Russell Westbrook added 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Ibaka scored 16 points to go along with nine rebounds.
Playing without Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce and Blake Griffin, the Clippers got a career-high 32 points from Austin Rivers and 32 from Jamal Crawford. Rivers shot 12-for-19 from the floor, 7-for-9 from 3-point range, and handed out five assists. Crawford had seven assists, and Jeff Green added 19 points for Los Angeles (47-28).
The Clippers shot 16-for-29 from 3-point range and 55 percent from the field. However, it was the play of Rivers that had that had the Los Angeles locker room buzzing.
“He was spectacular,” Crawford said of Rivers. “He made play after play. He read the defense, he did a great job. He really did.”
Rivers drained a 3-pointer with 7:30 left in the game to put the Clippers on top 109-104. A pair of free throws from Durant closed gap to three points.
Westbrook ripped the ball from Rivers and then threw an alley-oop to Durant. After Adams threw down a dunk, the Thunder were back in front 110-109.
However, Wesley Johnson answered with a 3-pointer to give Los Angeles a two-point advantage. Adams missed a pair of free throws, and Green made Oklahoma City pay by knocking down a 3-pointer from in front of the Thunder bench.
With the Thunder trailing by three, Westbrook drained a long 3-pointer to tie the game. Rivers answered with a drive into the paint and a shot over the Oklahoma City big men.
Westbrook tied the game with 1:20 left on a midrange jumper. A Crawford miss led to a Durant 3-point attempt that was off the mark. The Clippers came down with the rebound, but Westbrook got the steal and gave the Thunder the ball with 37 seconds left.
Westbrook took another jumper, but it was off. However, Adams bullied his way in for the tip-in, handing the Thunder a two-point advantage with 26 seconds left.
As the shot clock ran down, Rivers drove down the lane and lofted a high shot off the backboard. The ball bounced off the rim, and Westbrook skied for the rebound with 2.7 seconds to go to close out the game.
The last time the Thunder faced a team that decided to rest its starters was Saturday against San Antonio. They allowed the undermanned Spurs to hang around and found themselves in a tight contest for the entire first half, but Oklahoma City won 111-92.
The Clippers gave them a much tougher game but said it should have been expected.
“I told the guys before we went out there that nobody is giving us a chance,” Crawford said. “We’re not going to be shocked. Just do what we do. We play against one of the best starting units in the league every single day and we give them (heck).”
NOTES: Los Angeles rested G Chris Paul, G J.J. Redick and C DeAndre Jordan on Thursday in Oklahoma City. The Clippers were also without F Blake Griffin, who is serving a four-game suspension, and F Paul Pierce, who has an ankle injury. “Looking at the schedule, I thought this was a good day for us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. … Two days after the Thunder lost to the Detroit, Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant was still not happy about the way Pistons G Reggie Jackson celebrated during the game. “It was bush league in my opinion, I mean jumping up and down, running around,” Durant said. “I mean, I understand you won the game, but our whole team didn’t play. We would of beat the hell outta them if we did. I know I don’t usually talk like that, but it (ticked) me off.”