OKLAHOMA CITY — Just about every Thunder story is a fourth-quarter story and Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena was only the latest.
About 4 1/2 minutes remained when Oklahoma City center Steven Adams hit one of his little push shots, putting the Thunder up 11 points on the Detroit Pistons.
It hadn’t been easy, but now the game finally appeared to be in the bag, right?
Detroit got points on its next four possessions and suddenly it was a four-point game.
That meant two things:
One, it meant the Pistons were right back in the game with 2:28 remaining. Two, it meant the game had officially entered “clutch” territory.
That is, less than 5 minutes remained and the teams were within five points of each other.
By the NBA’s own statistics, Oklahoma City is the league’s best clutch team and Chris Paul is the league’s most effective clutch player.
The Pistons appeared to be back in the game, yet were they really?
The rest of the way, Oklahoma City outscored Detroit 9-4 and eight of those nine points belonged to Paul.
The Thunder’s 108-101 victory marked their fourth straight win and their ninth in 10 games.
Also, opening the season 6-11, the Thunder have gone 26-9, posting a .743 winning percentage since Nov. 29 that in the entire NBA trails only Eastern Conference leading Milwaukee’s .879 (29-4) mark over the same span.
“It was a different kind of game and a good win for us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
It was a grinder.
Donovan made a point of explaining the total number of offensive possessions in the first half was only 41.
That’s not the kind of game the Thunder want to play, yet they persevered.
“Some games are going to be grind-it-out,” Paul said. “This was one of those where it was kind of physical, but we held on.”
The Thunder were in a position to run away with it because everybody was contributing.
Before Paul went off at the end, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had already netted 20 of his 21 points, Danilo Gallinari had netted all 19 of his, Dennis Schroder already had his 18 and Steven Adams already had his 16.
“That’s the reason we’re so hard to guard,” Schroder said. “We’ve got so many weapons that can score 15-plus, 20 points, and we’re using it very well. Everybody’s touching the ball.”
It’s good to be clutch, too.
The lead down to four points, Paul answered by dancing into the lane, getting fouled and making both of his free throws.
After empty possession were traded, one of his patented mid-range jumpers, just right of the free-throw circle, made it 103-95.
Before it was over, he would knock down four free throws and finish with a team-high 22 points to go with six rebounds and seven assists.
“We just try to play the right way,” Paul said.
Also, they like the fact that they’ll get to keep doing it together.
The NBA’s trade deadline was 2 p.m. Thursday, yet the Thunder brought the very same team to the court on Friday that it brought Wednesday, the night Oklahoma City beat Cleveland.
“We’re like a whole family,” Schroder said. “It’s sometimes bigger than basketball, we’re really good friends off the court as well.
“It is what it is, but at the end of the day, I’m pretty glad everybody stayed here.”
The Pistons were led by former Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson’s 28 points. Christian Wood added 27 and Thon Maker 19.
On the subject of staying together, Paul said that he’d forgotten to send a text to all of his teammates.
The message he forgot to send?
“You know, it’s us,” he said. “Once the deadline passes, it’s us … If we’re going to make a run at this thing, we’ve got our group.”
That group keeps winning.