Oklahoma City saw one of its NBA-leading streaks come to an end on Sunday night in Portland when it was announced that Thunder starters Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka would be held out of the lineup because of lingering injuries.
Entering Sunday, OKC was the only remaining team in the league that had featured the same starting lineup in every game this season.
While that streak is over, the Thunder's winning streak isn't. Oklahoma City fended off some lopsided officiating, poor shooting performances and a resilient Portland squad to earn a hard-fought 87-83 victory in the Rose Garden.
In place of Sefolosha, who sat because of a sore neck, DeAndre Liggins earned his first career NBA start and he more than made the most of the opportunity. The Kentucky product – who earned OKC's 15th and final roster spot – played a team-high 40 minutes en route to 11 points and nine rebounds.
Liggins routinely made key plays, hit big shots (including three 3-pointers) and pulled down important rebounds that help preserve one of the team's most impressive victories of the season to date.
Sure, OKC has toppled better teams than Portland, it has certainly had better shooting nights but this was a very impressive victory considering all factors.
The Thunder was hampered considerably on the defensive end without Sefolosha and Ibaka (chest contusion), Portland seemed to get virtually every call, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin had horrendous shooting nights, and the Blazers were winners of nine-straight at home.
The Thunder responded by displaying outstanding ball movement, team rebounding, solid defense and just an overall well-rounded performance from all players involved. This resulted in OKC finding a way to win despite its second lowest scoring output of the entire season.
And, of course, Oklahoma City has KD.
Durant scored a game-high 33 points – tied with LaMarcus Aldridge, another former Longhorn – on 12-of-21 shooting.
Durant scored the game's first five points but finished the first half with only 11 after residing the final several minutes on the bench with three fouls, which resulted in OKC trailing 43-42 at the break.
KD responded with 13 points in the third quarter on 5-of-8 shooting, highlighted by a contested leaner at the buzzer to give his team a 68-59 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Portland mounted a fourth-quarter comeback and Nicholas Batum drilled a 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to cut the Thunder's lead to 84-83. After a questionable no-call on the ensuing possession resulted in a turnover, Batum charged down the floor and missed a contested layup that was hauled in by Kendrick Perkins, who was fouled immediately.
Perkins made one of his two free throws, giving the Blazers a chance to win or tie on the final possession with eight seconds remaining. Perk was matched up with Aldridge in a one-on-one battle and played outstanding face-up defense, forcing the all-star into a fade away airball. Westbrook pulled down the board and sank two free throws to ice the Thunder's 29th victory of the season.
Westbrook was OKC's second-leading scorer with 18 points despite a horrendous 5-of-21 shooting performance. The erratic point guard did flirt with a triple-double with eight rebounds and nine assists. Kevin Martin managed just four points on an abysmal 1-for-8 shooting night.
Perkins scored three points and pulled down a game-best 12 rebounds.
Portland (20-17) was paced by Aldridge's 33 points and 11 rebounds and Batum added 21 points.
With the victory and a Clipper loss on Saturday, Oklahoma City is in sole possession of the NBA's best record at 29-8. The Thunder wraps up its three-game road trip on Monday at Phoenix. The tipoff is set for 8 p.m.