Durant leads Thunder over injury-hit Clippers
NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant netted 32 points to power the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 109-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, in a showdown of the teams with the league's best records.
Russell Westbrook added 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting, Serge Ibaka had 17 points and nine rebounds and Durant, who made 12 of 19 shots, added seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who improved to an NBA-best 33-9.
Durant managed only eight points in the first half but seized command of the game in the second half to frustrate the injury-hit Clippers.
"I just had to slow down and figure out how the defense was playing me," Durant said. "I tried to get into a rhythm and in the second half I was able to make my shots.
"We came out hard and the bench played well and we got a good win on the road."
Blake Griffin scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Clippers, who lost their second game in a row and fell to 32-11, falling to third overall in the NBA behind the Thunder and San Antonio (33-11).
Oklahoma City, which lost to Miami in last year's NBA Finals, again remains the team to beat in the Western Conference.
"I wouldn't compare us to last year's team," Durant said. "We're a resilient team. We bounce back from losses. We're moving in the right direction.
"We challenge ourselves to be better players. We work hard in practice, go hard in shootarounds and when the games come around it's second nature to us.
"It's a long grind throughout the season but I try to work on my game any chance I can get."
The Clippers, who agreed to a 10-year lease extension on Tuesday to stay at their home arena through the end of the 2023-24 season, played without star guard Chris Paul, who was sidelined by a sore right knee.
"We knew they were playing well," Durant said. "We didn't want to take them lightly without Chris Paul."
Chauncey Billups, Paul's backcourt partner, was already sidelined by left foot tendinitis.
An 8-0 Thunder run over the last 75 seconds of the first quarter evened the game at 22-22. Kevin Martin sank two 3-pointers in the spurt for Oklahoma City.
The visitors then opened the second quarter with a 9-2 run in 1:55, Reggie Jackson's jumper from the left side putting the Thunder ahead 31-24 to complete a combined 17-2 spurt by Oklahoma City over the cold-shooting Clippers.
Oklahoma City led 49-45 at half-time despite Griffin's 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half. Westbrook led the Thunder in the first half with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting while Martin added 11 points.
Thabo Sefolosha's 3-pointer for the Thunder capped a 13-4 run to open the second half that put Oklahoma City on top 62-49.
Oklahoma City began the third quarter by going 5-for-5 on 3-point shots and finished the period with an 82-68 edge, but the Clippers scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to halve their deficit.
Durant answered the challenge with back-to-back 3-pointers, boosting the Thunder lead to 96-82 to help seal the Clippers' fate.
In their only prior meeting this season, Oklahoma City won 117-111 in over-time at home in November.
The teams meet again in Los Angeles in March but the Thunder have clinched victory in the season series -- a tie-breaker should the clubs finish with the same overall record.