OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder can generate a lot of excitement as the NBA’s highest-scoring team, but defense is still a matter of pride.
Durant scored 27 points, Kevin Martin added 24 and the Thunder clamped down in the second half to beat the Indiana Pacers 104-93 on Sunday night for their eighth straight win.
It was a matchup of NBA’s most potent offense and the league’s stingiest defense — but Oklahoma City also happens to be the second-best at making opponents miss.
The Pacers shot 60 percent in the first half before Thunder coach Scott Brooks delivered a message at halftime. His players responded by limiting Indiana to 33 percent after that.
“Defense is going to win games. You can score back and forth if you want to, but defending is what we do,” Russell Westbrook said.
Westbrook had 21 points but more importantly came up with a big block against 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert — 11 inches taller — during a late 8-0 burst by the Thunder that put it away after the Pacers had pulled within three.
“Plays like that can change the whole momentum of the game,” Westbrook said. “That was one of those plays.”
David West led the way with 21 points for Indiana, which had all five starters score in double figures but still couldn’t keep up.
The not-so-balanced Pacers came allowing an NBA-best 91.2 points per game but scoring a league-low 90.7.
“We knew to beat this team, we had to put up points as well,” said George Hill, who scored 15. “Our defense can only hold up for so long”
The league’s worst shooting team at 41.5 percent from the field, Indiana was connecting on 59 percent midway through the third quarter before a 1-for-13 dry spell allowed Oklahoma City to move ahead to stay.
Serge Ibaka had two straight putbacks and later added a jumper as the Thunder took advantage with a 17-3 run, taking an 82-72 lead after Nick Collison’s free throw with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Pacers chipped away and pulled to 94-91 on Paul George’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 5:26 to play. Durant found Ibaka open underneath for a layup on the other end, and the Thunder scored eight straight points to regain control.
After his block against Hibbert under the basket, Westbrook hit a jumper from the right wing, came up with a steal and then nailed another jumper from the left side for a 102-91 advantage with 2:59 left.
“Our first half was one of the worst we’ve played this year, and coach really got after us to bring it in the second half, and I think we did that,” Durant said.
The Thunder, averaging a league-best 106.2 points, were just the fifth team to hit triple digits this season against Indiana. The Pacers are 1-4 in those games.
It was the 12th straight game with over 100 points for Oklahoma City. The blistering pace mattered little to Brooks, though, when it was 57-56 Thunder at halftime.
Oklahoma City came in ranked second in the league — behind only Indiana — in allowing opponents to shoot 42.4 percent from the field. The Pacers were 24 for 40 in the first half and trailed mainly because of a 12-point deficit at the foul line.
“Coach got on us at halftime. That wasn’t championship defense right there,” said Martin, who had 22 points in the first half. “We realized that, and that was the No. 1 priority going out there in the second half, just being physical and making them take tough jumpers and getting rebounds. That’s what we did.”
George ended up with 17 points and Lance Stephenson and Hibbert chipped in 10 apiece for the Pacers. After the hot start, Indiana finished with 46 percent shooting from the field.
Oklahoma City also outrebounded the Pacers — the league’s top rebounding team — 40-34 and made 14 more free throws in 17 more attempts.
The Thunder shot 49 percent.
“It’s tough to see guys making shots when you’re playing tough defense on them. That was really what it was for us,” George said.
Durant started out 4 for 17 from the field but hit five of six shots during a key stretch with Indiana trying to rally. Most of the damage came from the post, where Oklahoma City took advantage of the Pacers’ defense switching screens with the small Hill ending up on Durant.
“They found something definitely,” George said.
“You go through games like that throughout the whole season,” Durant said. “Your energy is not there at the start, but I think it’s how you finish.”
George 5-15 4-4 17, West 10-16 1-3 21, Hibbert 4-9 2-2 10, Stephenson 4-8 1-1 10, Hill 5-14 3-3 15, Mahinmi 2-7 0-0 4, Green 4-7 0-0 8, Augustin 2-3 0-0 4, Young 1-2 0-0 2, T.Hansbrough 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 38-82 11-13 93.
OKLAHOMA CITY (104)
Durant 9-24 8-10 27, Ibaka 6-9 0-0 12, Perkins 1-2 2-2 4, Westbrook 7-17 6-7 21, Sefolosha 1-4 0-0 2, Martin 7-12 7-8 24, Collison 2-3 1-1 5, Thabeet 1-1 1-2 3, Maynor 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 37-76 25-30 104.
Indiana 22 34 18 19— 93
Oklahoma City 25 32 27 20—104
3-Point Goals—Indiana 6-17 (George 3-6, Hill 2-7, Stephenson 1-1, Augustin 0-1, Green 0-1, Young 0-1), Oklahoma City 5-19 (Martin 3-6, Westbrook 1-3, Durant 1-5, Collison 0-1, Maynor 0-1, Ibaka 0-1, Sefolosha 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Indiana 38 (West 9), Oklahoma City 52 (Perkins, Ibaka 9). Assists—Indiana 13 (George, Hill 3), Oklahoma City 16 (Westbrook 6). Total Fouls—Indiana 20, Oklahoma City 16. Technicals—Indiana defensive three second, Westbrook. A—18,203 (18,203).