Clifford's intuition turned out to be accurate as the Bobcats
fell to the Thunder 116-99 Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"We didn't have the right mindset today," Clifford said. "Starting
this morning at shootaround. We didn't have the mentality our team
needed to play an elite team like this. I thought our energy level
was low. We had poor energy to start the game."
For 3 1/2 quarters, they had enough energy as they kept the game
close. But the Thunder used a three-minute scoring outburst to put
the contest away.
"The team kind of turned it on from there," Thunder guard Reggie
Jackson said. "We just got stops, tried to get out and run and use
our athleticism to our advantage."
The Thunder (45-15) led by eight when forward Kevin Durant hit a
turnaround jumper at the 5:43 mark in the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City's defense then forced Charlotte into a shot-clock
violation. That led to back-to-back layups by Durant and forward
Serga Ibaka to push the advantage to 12 points.
Charlotte (27-32) was forced to call its second time out in less
than two minutes. That didn't prevent Ibaka from blocking a shot,
assisting on point guard Russell Westbrook's 3-pointer and then
hitting his own shot from the top of the key.
After Jackson stole the ball from Charlotte guard Kemba Walker and
went in for the easy layup, Oklahoma City's lead had ballooned from
six to 20 in less than three minutes. Both teams then began to clear
Durant finished the night with 28 points, shooting 8-for-24 from the
field, to go along with five assists and six rebounds. As bad as his
shooting numbers were, they were far from the worst shooting nights
of his career, which was a 2-for-17 performance his rookie season.
"That's what a good scorers does," Bobcats center Al Jefferson said
of Durant. "He's going to find a way to be a part of the game. Y'all
say we slowed them down, sounds like a great night to me."
Westbrook scored 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting. Ibaka added 15
points and 10 rebounds while Jackson came off the bench to score 17.
Jefferson paced the Bobcats with 25 points and seven boards. Forward
Anthony Tolliver added 17 points and guard Gary Neal scored 12.
[to top of second column]
With frigid temperatures outside the arena, Durant and Westbrook
started the game on fire. The duo combined for 21 of the team's
first 31 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
"I was just trying to take my time," Westbrook said. "I'll take
whatever shot is given to me, but at the same time to take my time
and knock them down. The more I play, the more rhythm I'm able to
catch and the more rhythm I'm able to get."
However, the Bobcats stayed close behind their three-point shooting
and Jefferson working over the Thunder big men in the paint. Ibaka
and center Steven Adams had three fouls each in the first half
trying to contend with Jefferson around the rim
But it was the ability of Charlotte to run its offense through
forward Josh McRoberts that gave Oklahoma City the biggest problems.
The Bobcats trailed 61-55 at halftime.
After his first-quarter start, Durant went cold and missed his next
14 shots. It wasn't until Durant drove to the basket for a dunk over
Tolliver that he got his first field goal of second half.
The Thunder led by four heading into the fourth.
"They are a great team," Jefferson said. "You have to play 48
minutes against them. You can't have too many mistakes."
NOTES: The Charlotte Bobcats announced Sunday that the team has
requested waivers on guard Ben Gordon, which ends his two-year run
with the organization. Any team that picks him up will not be able
to use him in this year's postseason. A player who had waivers
requested on him by his team after March 1 is ineligible for
postseason play, as per the collective bargaining agreement. ...
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the team is excited to have
signed free agent forward Caron Butler to a contract. He also likes
the fact he played at Connecticut. "Those guys all happen to have
lineage," Presti said. "We talk a lot about the characteristics we
look for in players. One thing about the players from UConn, they
are pretty tough-minded, physical guys. They've played in big games
and played with other elite players." ... Thunder G Thabo Sefolosha
will likely be out four to six weeks after an MRI confirmed he has a
calf strain. F Perry Jones III started in his place.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.