By Randy Renner
Getting out of Dallas with a win last night was hard enough but Thunder players and staff were a bit concerned that getting into New York City as huge snowstorm swirled might be even harder.
While commercial flights into the New York metro were cancelled because of Winter Storm Jonas the Thunder’s charter was able to get in and land safely early this morning.
“Landed!!! Hello New York!” Thunder sideline reporter Lesley McCaslin posted on her Twitter feed at about 2am Oklahoma time followed by “#WeMadeIt.”
The Thunder are scheduled to play the Brooklyn Nets Sunday afternoon. Whatever drama might have been involved at the end of the team’s flight out of Dallas it probably didn’t come close the matching the drama involved at the end of the team’s game against the Mavericks.
The Thunder appeared to have their 7th straight win safely tucked away with a 17-point, 97-80 lead with less than eight minutes to play.
But OKC would score just a dozen more points while watching that fat margin get trimmed all the way down to a skinny stick man less than seven minutes later at 107-106.
Then in that final minute the Thunder managed to do something that had eluded them in the previous 11 minutes of the fourth quarter, muster together four straight stops, three of them coming on consecutive frantic 3-point attempts, after a Kevin Durant basket had given the Thunder a 109-106 advantage.
That would hold up as the final score and the Thunder had made good their escape.
“There was some adversity,” head coach Billy Donovan admitted, “But I felt like our guys stuck together, played together and played for each other. On the road adversity is going to come in one form or another. Whatever it is you have to be able to handle it collectively.”
Adversity definitely came late but it paid the Thunder an early visit too when ironman center Steven Adams was ruled out with a strained elbow about an hour before tipoff. Adams suffered the injury during pregame warmups and Nick Collison, who hadn’t even played lately, all of a sudden was the starting center.
He responded by scoring six points while grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds, six of them coming off the offensive glass to keep possessions alive.
“You look at a guy like Nick who the last couple games hasn’t played and then he has to start and he comes out and gives you a great effort and a great game,” marveled Donovan. “That doesn’t happen unless you have an incredible amount of professionalism in terms of keeping yourself ready.”
Adams status going into Sunday’s game at Brooklyn isn’t known yet. He’s be re-evaluated by team trainers today.
Collison and the rest of the Thunder bench came up huge for OKC in Dallas. That group scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and 47 for the game. That effort backed up a 24-point night from Durant.
"The bench came out huge, point blank," Durant said after the 7-time All-Star’s first game in Dallas in almost two years. "The bench won that game for us tonight."
Durant’s All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Enes Kanter matched him in scoring to lead three of Oklahoma City's four reserves finishing in double figures. Dion Waiters (13) and Kyle Singler (10) were the others, with Waiters and Singler each scoring six in the final quarter.
Singler has now scored 11 and 10 points in consecutive games and has perhaps solved the shooting issues that have plagued him all season.
The Thunder can now hunker down in the Big Apple with their longest winning streak of the season secured at seven games. As the snow flies and piles up along the northeast coast the team is scheduled to play Brooklyn Sunday afternoon at 2:30 and then the Knicks Tuesday night before flying out of New York and on to Minnesota.
They’ll worry about all that later, for now they’re just happy to have escaped a Mavericks rally in Dallas and arrived just ahead of snowmagedon in New York.