OKLAHOMA CITY — While the rest of the teams in playoffs contention were still fighting for every win, the Oklahoma City Thunder used the final night of the regular season Wednesday as an opportunity to give its key players a little rest.
Playing the majority of the game with the team’s Developmental League standouts, the Thunder lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 95-89 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We put ourselves in this position to be in this position,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s the only reason (they) are getting off.”
For 81 games, the Thunder (60-22) fought and scrapped through the regular season. They did everything possible to earn the top seed in the Western Conference and made sure all teams had to come through the Thunder Dome if they plan to go to the NBA Finals. Their playoff run starts Sunday at home.
“Our guys love playing here,” Brooks said. “It’s a special place. It’s a great environment to coach in, to play in and to watch.”
The Bucks (38-44) had a different mentality heading into the contest. Even though they had the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs locked up, coach Jim Boylan didn’t like the way his team was heading into the postseason. Losers of five straight, he wanted them to get a little taste of success before facing the Miami Heat in the first round.
After trailing for three quarters, Milwaukee stormed back in the fourth quarter to take its first lead.
John Henson led the charge for the Bucks. The rookie owned the offensive glass and turned the rebounds into points as he gave his team a 12-point advantage with six minutes left.
He finished with 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting and 16 rebounds, eight on the offensive end.
“That is just effort,” Henson said. “On the offensive end, that’s just effort. Going after stuff you don’t think you can get. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Reggie Jackson cut the Bucks’ lead to eight with back-to-back layups. But Marquis Daniels responded with a 3-pointer and Gustavo Ayon knocked in a putback to push the advantage back to 13 with less than three minutes left in the contest. They were able to hold the Thunder off the rest of the way.
“I wanted to end the season on a positive note for our guys,” Boylan said. “We’ve worked hard all year. We’ve had our ups and downs. Any time there is a coaching change, it’s an odd season. I wanted our guys to finish the season’s 82 games and have a victory to wrap it up with.”
In limited minutes, Brandon Jennings scored 17 points. Mike Dunleavy added 14 points and Ayon collected 12 rebounds.
Jackson scored a career-high 23 points off the bench for the Thunder (60-22). He also dished out five assists and grabbed six rebounds. Rookie Perry Jones scored 14 points and hauled in nine rebounds.
Russell Westbrook played a total of seven minutes, but he extended his streak to 394 consecutive games played.
Oklahoma City, which raised its Northwest Division Championship banner before the game, played without Kevin Durant. By not playing, Durant handed over his title of NBA scoring champion to New York’s Carmelo Anthony. To surpass Anthony, he needed to score 70 points in the final game.
“It’s something that is never talked about,” Brooks said. “If Kevin, really wanted to win the scoring title, he would have done that many weeks ago. He wouldn’t have been trying to get triple doubles and putting his teammates in position to get easy buckets. He can score 35 points a game if he really wanted to focus on that.”
Even though Oklahoma City’s Durant was unable to continue his streak of scoring titles, he was able to enter another elite group of scorers. By shooting 51 percent from the field, 90.5 percent from the free throw line and 41.6 percent from 3-point range, he joined Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird in the 50/40/90 club.
“It’s a goal I set before the season,” Durant said. “And to see it come alive is something I’m really proud of.”
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