OKLAHOMA CITY — Being a starting point guard in the NBA has been a learning process for Reggie Jackson. With Russell Westbrook still out of service, Jackson is still learning to be the consistent floor general the Oklahoma City Thunder need.
Facing a short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves squad, Jackson produced in the fourth quarter to help spur the Thunder to a 106-97 victory Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City became the first team in the league to hit the 40-win mark this season.
“I think Reggie did a great job of finding guys and making the right plays,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “He was definitely aggressive trying to get to the rim and shooting the thing as well. He played well tonight. We kind of fed off him.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Durant was called for a technical foul with the Thunder leading 93-86. After Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio missed the technical free throw, Durant knocked down a jumper to put Oklahoma City ahead by nine.
Jackson came up with a steal with 2:04 left in the game. Durant was calling for the ball at the top of the key, looking to put the game away. However, Jackson waved him off, then drove into the lane before passing the ball to guard Thabo Sefolosha for a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up 100-90.
Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger missed a 3-pointer, and Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka tipped in a missed Durant layup to give the Thunder a 12-point advantage. Jackson added a 3-pointer of his own to close out the night..
Durant posted 26 points, nine boards and seven assists to lead the Thunder (40-11). Jackson finished with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and added nine assists with only one turnover. Center Kendrick Perkins grabbed 12 boards, and Ibaka scored 14 in the win.
Rubio led the Timberwolves with 19 points and five assists. Forward Dante Cunningham scored 18 points, and he and Rubio each grabbed eight rebounds.
Playing without three starters, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said he was proud of his team despite the loss.
“It was a tough game,” Adelman said. “They busted their tail the whole game. I think it shows that these guys compete. They weren’t afraid to go play them with three starters out.”
Minnesota (24-25) played without forward Kevin Love, who suffered a painful fall Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he landed on his back. That left the Timberwolves trying to run their offense through guard Rubio and forward Ronny Turiaf.
Rubio responded with nine first-quarter points, and Minnesota trailed 26-25 heading into the second quarter.
“Without (Kevin Love), there’s more shots,” Rubio said. “And we have to take more responsibility and just have to attack.”
The Timberwolves pulled ahead in the second quarter with balanced scoring.
Oklahoma City couldn’t take care of the ball, as it committed 11 of its 16 turnovers in the first half. However, the Thunder still led 56-54 at halftime thanks to a Durant 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Thunder came up with another buzzer beater to close out the third quarter when the Minnesota forward Gorgui Dieng mistakenly tapped in 3-pointer from Thunder guard Derek Fisher. Dieng was called for goaltending, and Oklahoma City led 80-77.
“I thought that was a big momentum boost going into that fourth quarter,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I think we went on a 7-0 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth.”
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