Thunder Earn Playoff Berth With Philly Win, Pacers Next
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Three straight wins for the Thunder have secured a playoff berth and left them feeling quite a bit better about themselves now than they were at this time a week ago.
All three games featured outstanding defense, last night in Philadelphia the Thunder slid back to their old turnover troubles (20) but it didn’t matter against the Sixers as OKC won going away 111-97.
Russell Westbrook secured his 13th triple-double of the season (and fourth in his last seven games) with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. That ties him with Grant Hill and Jason Kidd for the most triples in a single season over the last 30 years.
Russ also gave the crowd something to ooh and aah over with several of his signature dunks.
"It's a blessing, especially to go out and have fun and get the win," Westbrook said. "I think it's fun to see where we're playing the right way. It's fun for our guys to see everybody happy playing the right way."
Kevin Durant got in on the fun too, dropping in 26 points (his 54th straight games scoring at least 20) while also grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing a half dozen assists.
The Thunder were also able to rest Serge Ibaka who has at times played great this season and at other times has been terrible. Billy Donovan figured a rested Ibaka will be much more important for tonight’s game at Indiana than he would have been last night in Philly.
Getting into the playoffs was a given for this club, barring serious injuries to key players but since that’s exactly what happened last season forcing OKC to come up short in the playoff quest in 2014-15, getting back in for 2015-16 is something not to be taken for granted.
And for Donovan, who was coaching at the University of Florida last season, it’s even more special.
"It's my first time, so I'm excited I'll have an opportunity to do that," Donovan said. "It's a great accomplishment. We're excited about that, but we also realize what's in front of us and the areas we want to improve on."
What’s in front of the Thunder right now is a date with the Indiana Pacers and a score to settle.
The Pacers came from behind to beat the Thunder 101-98 at The Peake last month. Indy hit four 3s in the last three minutes of game, adding up to a 17-7 closing run. It’s one of 12 games the Thunder have lost this season when leading going into the fourth quarter.
"They remember, especially guys (with) attitudes like Russ," Pacers swingman C.J. Miles said when asked about the re-match. "You know Russ remembers. I don't even know him that well but I know he remembers. I mean we remember stuff like that. You know they're going to try to come in here and steal one back. It's going to be a great game, it's going to be intense."
Miles didn’t even play in that game back in OKC, he was out with a stomach virus but he will be in the lineup. A guy that might not be is center Ian Mahinmi who lit the Thunder up with 19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. He is questionable with a sore back and point guard Ty Lawson is questionable too with a sore left ankle.
If Mahinmi can’t play it will further hinder the Pacers rebounding efforts which have come up short lately. They been outrebounded in three straight games, losing twice and the Thunder lead the NBA in rebounding margin at more than eight a game. OKC outrebounded Indy in that February game 48-45.
Tipoff is set for 6:10 Oklahoma time and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.