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March 26, 2013

Race on for division title as OKC beats Trail Blazers

Oklahoma City —  

Motivated by a technical foul on his coach, Russell Westbrook took control of a tight game and provided the energy the Oklahoma City Thunder needed to pull away from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kevin Durant had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Westbrook scored 21 points and fueled a key third-quarter spurt that helped Oklahoma City beat Portland 103-83 on Sunday night.

Serge Ibaka added 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting — all in the second half — for Oklahoma City (52-19), which made up ground on the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the Western Conference’s top playoff spot. San Antonio (53-17) lost to Houston on Sunday and now is 11⁄2 games ahead of the Thunder.

Oklahoma City held Portland to 36 points in the second half, with only 15 of those coming in the fourth quarter.

“The defense really picked up as the game went along,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “Going into this game you knew that they had five guys that score almost 14 points or above so everybody had to do their job and guard tonight. I thought our defense was really good in the second half.”

Damian Lillard scored 19 points for Portland (33-37), which finished 2-3 on a five-game road trip. The Blazers, who didn’t score during the final six minutes, fell three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

Brooks was called for a technical foul with 2:53 left in the third quarter and that seemed to spark Westbrook. Portland’s Nicolas Batum made 2-of-3 free throws to tie the game 63-63, but a steal and dunk by Westbrook started a 10-2 run that put the Thunder ahead 73-65.

Westbrook assisted on a 14-foot jumper by Ibaka and capped the spurt with a three-point play. Westbrook finished with nine assists.

“Russell really changed the game with that two-to-three minute stretch, defensively and offensively, in the third quarter,” Brooks said. “The game was still anybody’s game and that gave us enough of a lead. We took it into the fourth quarter and then we did a great job of finishing the game by making shots and defending. We didn’t give them any easy looks in the fourth quarter.”

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