Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks has preached to his players all season about successfully closing out quarters. The Thunder did that in the third quarter Sunday night and went on to snap a season-high three-game losing streak.
Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Oklahoma City had a 24-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters en route to a 91-75 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
"We talked about that yesterday . to finish strong in all quarters," Brooks said. "I didn't think we had a great finish in the second quarter but we did a good job in the second half. We look for that and we wanted to see some progress in that area and I thought the guys really locked in and focused on closing out the quarters."
James Harden scored 17 points and Russell Westbrook had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds for Oklahoma City, which remained percentage points behind San Antonio for first place in the Western Conference.
"I have a great group of guys that play hard and play together," Brooks said. "They care for each other. None of us like the fact that we lost three in a row but they never pointed a finger at each other. We were frustrated that we lost but we weren't frustrated at each other."
The Thunder never trailed but the game was close for three quarters. Toronto was down 58-55 with 6:05 left in the third quarter, but the Raptors didn't score again in the period. Oklahoma City then scored the last 12 points of the third quarter — with Daequan Cook's 3-pointer stretching the advantage to 70-55 in the final seconds of the period — and the first 12 of the fourth to take 27-point lead.
"Guys got into the lane, got to the free-throw line and made great passes and our defence was really good," Durant said. "Our defence always ignites our offence. We got stops and we turned them into points."
Jose Calderon led Toronto with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and DeMar DeRozan added 16, going 6 for 22 from the field. The Raptors finished shooting 37 per cent.
"We could play them 10 out of 10 times and the results probably wouldn't be different," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "But like I told the team, I am looking for 10 or 12 guys — I don't care what the talent level is — to compete, to fight, to scratch, to claw going down."
After beating the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls last Sunday, the Thunder lost at home to Memphis and followed that with road losses at Miami and Indiana. Toronto had swept the Thunder last season but Oklahoma City seized control early Sunday.
Durant, Derek Fisher and Cook each made a 3-pointer for the Thunder during a 21-8 run that bridged the first and second quarters. Durant ended the first by going the length of the floor with a rebound and hitting an 8-foot leaner at the buzzer, and Nick Collison's 17-foot jumper put Oklahoma City up 37-24 with 7:54 left in the first half.
Toronto pulled to 50-43 by halftime and the Raptors continued hanging around, cutting the deficit to 58-55 on a 3 by Alan Anderson midway through the third quarter.
The Raptors didn't score again until DeRozan hit a baseline jumper as the shot clock expired with 9:09 left in the game — a drought of nearly 9 minutes.
"Those stretches are the ones we've got to eliminate," Casey said. "They started making shots and we had to rest some of our players. The combination we had in there, at some point — DeMar can't play 48 minutes and Jose can't play 48 minutes, so we had to get a different matchup in there and those guys took advantage of it.
"No matter who's on the court, you've still got to have attention to detail and understand what is happening. . Those breakdowns can't happen."
It was important for the Thunder to carry a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter, Collison said.
"The third quarter, we were able to push it up [the floor] and that makes it a different ballgame," Collison said. "Going into the fourth quarter down 15 is hard to come back from."
Toronto cut the cap to 83-67 on a basket by James Johnson with 5:38 left, capping a 12-1 run, but Harden and Fisher each hit 3s to keep the Thunder comfortably ahead. Harden scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Serge Ibaka had five blocked shots to go with eight points and six rebounds for the Thunder.