(Updated to reflect the results of the Bucks game on 3/30.)
The Thunder wrapped up a 4 game week Saturday night by defeating the Bucks to finish the week at 3-1.
Here are the Western playoff seedings as of March 30:
The Oklahoma City Thunder started the week with 51 wins, 19 losses, and the third best record in the NBA (behind the Heat and Spurs). Coach Scott Brooks credited their defense as the key to the Thunder's success, and so it would be the defense that the team focused on going forth into the game with the Portland Trail Blazers (33-36).
1. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland came into the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City ranked in the top 5 in the NBA in 3-point shooting (takes and makes). The Trail Blazers, fighting for a low playoff spot in the Western Conference, were hungry for a win. It would be the third meeting between these two teams. The Thunder won the previous two, but Portland was playing their best basketball of the season. Former Thunder guard Eric Maynor, who was making his first trip back to OKC following his trade, provided quality minutes for Portland, finishing the night with 10 points and 4 assists, and backing-up rookie point guard Damian Lillard who scored 19 points with 6 assists. For the Thunder, Kevin Durant led the way with 37 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 21 points and 9 assists. But it would be the defense that closed the game for the Thunder, rendering Portland scoreless for the final 6 minutes of the game. Thunder won 103-83.
Defeating the Washington Wizards (103-80) Wednesday night was a team effort. The Thunder defense held the Wizards to 32% shooting from the field. The Wizards rolled into Oklahoma City after an impressive win over the Memphis Grizzlies. They were 6-2 in their last 8 games. Washington's Guard John Wall scored 47 points in that game against the Grizzlies, and he was looking for more against the OKC Thunder. But, it would be the crushing defense of the Thunder that would hold Wall to 3-18 shooting. Westbrook, facing early foul trouble, returned to the game and scored 19 of his 21 points in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Durant finished with 20 points. The Thunder bench scored 20 points in the first half, Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson combining for 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Martin and Jackson combined for 25 points (9-13 shooting) for the game.
OKC then hit the road for back-to-back games against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. With the season winding down and the Thunder on a 3-game winning streak, the next two games loomed huge for the team. The Thunder had pulled within 1.5 games of the #1 spot in the Western Conference. However, defeating the Timberwolves would be no easy task.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
In a game where both teams performed similarly, the Thunder came out on the short end, losing to Minnesota 101-93. The Thunder shot 45.6% from the field; 31.3% from the 3-point arc (5-16); and 80% from the foul line. The Timberwolves shot 44.6% from the field; 33.9% from the arc (5-15); and 81.5% from the foul line. What was the difference? Three things: 1) The Thunder had no answer for Center Nikola Pekovic, who scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, 7 offensive; 2) The Timberwolves guards out-played the Thunder, led by Ricky Rubio who finished with 17 points, 7 assists and 4 steals. Kevin Durant scored easily at times but his offense did not carry over to his teammates. KD finished with 36 points, but it was the Timberwolves who had the more efficient offense Friday night.
"They came out and executed their offense and it was tough to stop," Durant told reporters after the game. "They move the ball so well and spread you out and pick-and-roll, and they got so many great passers and slashers and shooters. You really have to be on point every minute of the game against them. You can't have any mistakes because they execute on it all."
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Oklahoma City Thunder put it all together and outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 26-16 in the 4th quarter, winning the game 109-99 Saturday night. From start to finish, both the Thunder and the Bucks played with intensity and grit. They challenged each other on both ends of the floor on every possession. Much was made about the matchup between the league’s top shot blockers: Serge Ibaka for the Thunder and Larry Sanders for the Bucks. At the end of the game, Ibaka had 8 blocked shots and 16 points, Sanders had 12 points, but 0 blocks. Russell Westbrook has his first triple double of this season with 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. KD came up big with 30 points and 8 rebounds. Kevin Martin was hot off the bench with 17 points. Nick Collison was impressive with 10 points (5-6 shooting), and 6 rebounds. It was a total team effort. Perkins was outstanding on defense as was his teammates: Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, and Ronnie Brewer. What did we learn about the Thunder from this game? The Thunder has a few days to rest and focus on their next game. When they watch film on this game, I believe they will see what we all saw Saturday night: a championship-caliber team.
What have we learned about the Thunder this week?
The Thunder want to be known as a defensive team, and they have proven that they are indeed capable of imposing their will on opposing teams. Against the Wizards on Sunday, the Thunder shut down an elite point guard in John Wall, a player who has given his team new life since returning to Washington's lineup after a knee injury. In the Trail Blazers game, a swarming Thunder defense shut out the entire Portland offense for the final 6 minutes of the game. These accomplishments are amazing.
"We'll be fine," Durant told reporters after the Timberwolves game, "You know, just a little bump in the road."
The Thunder realize that the road won't be easy regardless of a team's record. Durant went on to explain:
"If we want to get where we want to get to, we've got to get up for every game. And I think we were up for tonight (Friday), but we just ran into a team that played better."
The Thunder have always managed to tuck a loss behind them and concentrate on that one game ahead. Nine games remain on the Thunder's schedule.