By Randy Renner
The Oklahoma City Thunder got an important win last night but even more important to the upcoming playoff run is that the team appears to be healthy again.
Thunder defensive whiz Thabo Sefolosha returned to the lineup for the first time in more than a month and Kendrick Perkins was out there playing too and the Thunder beat Sacramento 107-92 thanks to a 21-2 run from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth that was fueled by stout defense.
The Thunder also got a big game from Caron Butler who scored 23 points and was 6-for-6 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant also had 23 (we'll get to the streak in a moment), Serge Ibaka added 19 and Reggie Jackson had 13.
Tonight in Los Angeles against the Clippers the Thunder are expected to be able to put their regular starting five back on the floor for the first time in quite a while. The regular starters have only played 20 games and they're 17-3 in those games.
Russell Westbrook rested last night but will play tonight, Sefolosha and Perkins are expected to go again also and of course Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka will be there too.
The starting five are back just in time because this game tonight against the Clips is about as big as they came. Second place in the Western Conference standings is still up for grabs and whoever wins tonight will have a little better grasp on it.
Before last night's game with the Kings the Thunder held a much longer shootaround session than what is normal and most all of it was spent watching film and talking through some problem areas on defense.
Whatever was said (and we're told the discussion became passionate and pointed) it worked. Generally it involved defense, communication and focusing in on the task at hand.
Last night the Thunder held the Kings to just 41.5 percent shooting overall and 3-for-14 (21.4 percent) on 3-pointers.
In the fourth quarter, with mostly bench players on the floor, the Thunder locked down on Sacramento holding the Kings to just 22.2 percent shooting (4-for-18) overall and 0-for-5 from deep.
The Thunder also took care of the ball last night, with just six turnovers (a season-low). All six came in the second half. Going through the first half without making a turnover was a franchise first.
Kevin Durant didn't play in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 23 points, ending his streak of 25-point games at 41. In the postgame lockerroom Durant seemed relieved it was over.
"I was getting so many texts after every game, I’m glad that’s over with," Durant said. "Now I can just focus on the team. If we played well and I had 25 points, that would take away from how well the team was playing so I didn’t like that. If we lost, it was all about me scoring 25 points. I didn’t like that either. I’m glad we can just talk about the team now.”
Durant said the time for personal appreciation of his accomplishment will come later.
“When I sit back after the season’s over, that’s when I’ll reflect on everything, what I’ve done, what the team’s done,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll appreciate it then, but now I’m just focusing on game to game and how we can get better as a group and how I can help the team get better."
No time to look back on much of anything right now, the next game is already upon us. The Thunder are in Los Angeles now for what has turned into a showdown game against former OU star Blake Griffin and the Clippers.
L.A. is hard on the heels of the Thunder for second place in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers have won two out of the first three games and so have the tie-breaker at this point. The Thunder have a skinny two game lead over the Clips in the loss column with five games left on OKC's schedule.
We'll post a full Gameday preview a bit later today. Tipoff tonight is at about 9:40 because it's the second game of an ESPN double-header so the tip time could slide a few minutes. You can also see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.