Defense, Westbrook push OKC to 108-104 win

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Thunder forward Kyle Singler tries to block a Toronto shot Sunday night.
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams attempts a hook shot. Adams finished with six points and six rebounds.
Russell Westbrook knocks the ball away from Toronto's Greivis Vasquez during first half action Sunday.
D.J. Augustin dribbles upcourt against Toronto. Augustin finished with six points and five assists.
Thunder center Enes Kanter takes an elbow to the jaw from Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. Kanter finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Serge Ibaka finishes a slam dunk. Ibaka had 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots.

By Tim Farley

A stronger defensive performance in the second half and another Russell Westbrook triple-double propelled the Oklahoma City Thunder to a much-needed 108-104 win over the Toronto Raptors Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Toronto (38-25) scored 61 points in the first half, prompting the Thunder coaching staff to make some adjustments at halftime. Apparently, they worked as Oklahoma City (35-28) held the Raptors to 43 points in the final two quarters.

“We really locked in defensively and talked about some things at halftime that we have to do much better and clean some things up and play with a little bit more defensive toughness,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said.

In the third quarter, the Raptors hit only six of 21 shots, but the fourth quarter wasn’t much better (12 of 28). Toronto finished the game shooting 42 percent from the field, including 11 of 27 from behind the arc. Thunder defenders also blocked six shots in the second half and forced four turnovers.

Individually, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka swatted away five Toronto shots while Steven Adams, back from an injury, blocked two more.

Offensively, Oklahoma City was led by Westbrook who notched his seventh triple-double of the season and fifth in the last six games. His consecutive streak of triple-doubles was halted at four during a 108-105 loss at Chicago last week.

On Sunday, Westbrook, the NBA’s leading scorer, was back on track with 30 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds, including three offensive caroms. He also recorded four steals along with nine turnovers.

Although the majority of that stat line was good news for the Thunder, it left Toronto players and coaches flustered.

“If you find somebody who has stopped him, let me know,” Raptors guard DeMar Rozan said. “It’s definitely tough. You got to give him credit. Their best player is out and he’s stepping up when they’re fighting for a playoff spot.”

Raptor head coach Dwane Casey attributed Oklahoma City’s win to Westbrook’s leadership.

“Well, he stuck with it and again they got their transitions going. Make or miss, they got us on our heels with his speed, quickness and power going into the paint. It hurt us in the second half,” he said.

Although he’s noted for his offensive prowess, Brooks brought out the accolades for Westbrook’s defensive effort.

“He had four steals and was doing a great job on (Kyle) Lowry and did a great job on whoever we put him on. Then, I thought his big defensive play was a block from behind. I don’t know if he got credit for it, it was that quick. But he did block their big from behind and that was a big part of the late play in the game,” he said.

Ibaka and starting center Enes Kanter each tallied 21 points as the only other Thunder players in double figures. Ibaka scored his points on 10 of 16 shots while Kanter was good on nine of 14 shots.

The win leaves Oklahoma City a game ahead of New Orleans in the battle for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Thunder now trails San Antonio and Dallas by 4 ½ game, teams that are fighting for the sixth and seventh playoff positions in the West.

Oklahoma City led early, lost the lead, but regained it late in the first quarter to lead 31-26 after the first quarter. The two teams battled back and forth until Toronto took a seven point lead, 57-50, with 3:13 left in the third quarter. The Thunder outscored the Raptors 8-4 to close the halftime gap to 61-58.

The game was tied eight times to go with nine lead changes, including the last one which occurred when Ibaka nailed a 19-foot jumper giving Oklahoma City a 79-77 advantage. By the end of the third quarter, the Thunder led 86-79, holding Toronto to only 18 points.

During the third quarter, Westbrook tallied 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists. Oklahoma City maintained a lead throughout the final quarter, although Toronto came within two, 106-104, with 15 seconds left to play. However, Westbrook hit two free throws to seal the deal.

“It was good,” said Westbrook, referencing the final push to win the game. “I think we did a great job in the fourth quarter getting some stops when we needed to and obviously making free throws down the stretch.”

Toronto was led in scoring by DeMar DeRozan with 24 points followed by Terrence Ross with 20. Kyle Lowry chipped in 14 while Lou Williams tallied 11.

GAME NOTES: Oklahoma City hosts the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, the second of four consecutive home games…The Clippers lost to Golden State on Sunday, 106-98…Brooks and Waiters were each whistled for technical fouls…Oklahoma City outscored Toronto in the paint, 52-48, tallied more second chance points, 24-21, and scored more fast break points, 13-8…Oklahoma City’s top rebounders were Kanter with 12 and Westbrook with 11.


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