Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/22/12
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder knew it could play better. Despite cruising to one of the best records in the Western Conference, the Thunder looked almost disinterested since making their run to the NBA Finals last year. That changed Wednesday when the Los Angeles Clippers pulled into town for a pre-Thanksgiving battle. In front of a national TV audience, Oklahoma City held off Los Angeles 117-111 in overtime at the Chesapeake Energy Arena for its biggest win of the early season. "I thought that was a hard-fought basketball game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Both teams really laid it on the line. Our crowd was phenomenal. I thought it was like a playoff game, if you want to say that in November." The last time the Thunder (9-3) played one of the elite teams in the league, they fell apart down the stretch. This time, they found a way to make the big plays when needed. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles forward Matt Barnes sank two free throws to cut his team's deficit to 98-95. After the Clippers (8-3) got a stop, Los Angeles guard Chris Paul had a chance to get his team to within one point, but he missed a layup, and Thunder forward Serge Ibaka got the rebound. Ibaka threw it out to Kevin Durant who scored an easy finger-roll layup. However, a Barnes 3-pointer spearheaded a 7-2 Clippers run that tied the game at 102-102 with 35 seconds remaining. The Thunder attempted to get the ball to Durant, but Blake Griffin denied him the entire way. Russell Westbrook was left with an off-balance shot that bounced off the backboard. Paul then had a chance to end the game in regulation, but his fade-away jumper over Westbrook was off the mark and send the game into the overtime. In overtime, the Thunder took a five-point lead when Durant hit two free throws with 52 seconds left. He and the rest of the team hit its free throws down the stretch to close out the game. "We were trying to make him earn it," Barnes said. "He shot 21 free throws. That's kind of hard to swallow. With a great player like him, you want to be able to be physical, but they wouldn't let us be to physical tonight. It's frustrating. Can't really say anything about the refs cause I know they will fine me. This is a man's game. We have to be able to play. Nobody is trying to hurt each other. We just want to go out here and play hard and play basketball." Durant scored a season-high 35 points -- nine of them in overtime -- and he added six rebounds, five assists and five steals for Oklahoma City. Westbrook contributed 23 points and nine assists for the Thunder. Griffin paced the Clippers with 23 points. Paul was held to nine points and nine assists, and he said it was one of the worst games of his career. "It's a tough loss," Paul said. "I think the most frustrating part is that we had the opportunity to win it, and regardless of what anyone says, it's going to be hard for us to win a game when I play that bad. It's tough because you work so hard, but there's just going to be nights like that." Oklahoma City started the game draining 3-pointers from all around the court. Westbrook hit the first one of the game, and Thabo Sefolosha followed with two more before the Clippers were forced to call a timeout. The Thunder had a 10-point lead before a late Los Angeles run closed its deficit to 28-22 heading into second quarter. The strength of the Clippers in the early part of the season has been their bench. The leader of that unit has been Jamal Crawford, who tops the team in scoring. When he entered the game, Durant tried to guard him, but after Crawford scored seven quick points, Durant moved over to check Barnes. The Clippers ran their offense through Griffin early. Griffin took 10 shots in the half, forcing the Thunder defense to converge on him, which left Los Angeles' perimeter shooters open. Despite that, Los Angeles couldn't slow down Oklahoma City. After starting the game with jumpers, the Thunder started driving to the rim and picking up fouls. They went 14-for-16 from the line in the first half. The Clippers closed the gap to 56-49 in the final seconds of the half before Ibaka drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push lead back into double digits. "I think we did a good job of getting steals, getting key rebounds, getting out on the break," Westbrook said. "They made a few runs, but we withstood their runs and did a great job. Tonight was one of the great games we played defensively." NOTES: The Clippers entered the game second in the NBA in field-goal percentage at .492. They were second in the league in points in the paint with an average of 47 per game. Both numbers are by-products of the improved play of DeAndre Jordan and Griffin. Jordan was shooting 68 percent, while Griffin was at 51 percent. Los Angeles shot just 43 percent Wednesday. ... Despite the departure of James Harden, Oklahoma City had seen an increase in assists. The Thunder went from a league-low 18.5 per game last year to 22.4 per game this season entering Wednesday's game. That was good for seventh in the NBA. ... The novelty of Griffin playing in front of his hometown may have worn off after three years. When the Oklahoma City native and former Oklahoma University All-American shot an airball in the first half, he was soundly jeered by Thunder fans.
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