OKLAHOMA CITY — The next two games are difficult, both in Los Angeles and the Thunder have yet to win on the road.
Yet, Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it was a very good Philadelphia team visiting and the 76ers would not go away.
It didn’t matter.
It took overtime, but the Thunder finally grabbed their season’s first signature win, 127-119.
Down the stretch, in the latter half of the fourth quarter and OT, the Thunder did not turn the ball over, appeared to grab every rebound and very nearly suffered no empty possessions, getting points on 11 of 14 trips down the court to end regulation time and on 7 of 8 possessions to begin overtime.
That gave Oklahoma City a 10-point edge with 1:07 remaining. The Thunder needed only to hit free throws from there and didn’t miss.
It was all they could want with the Clippers and Lakers, Monday and Tuesday, next on the agenda.
Chris Paul played his biggest home game in OKC since his days as a Hornet, scoring 16 of his 27 points from the fourth quarter forward.
He finished 7 of 13 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds, dished five assists and did not commit a turnover in more than 38 minutes of court time.
Yet, he didn’t outscore Danilo Gallinari, who finished with 28 points, making 7 of 11 shots and 3 of 5 3-pointers, including the basket that brought the house down with 2:22 left in the extra frame.
A transition 3 from the right side, it put Oklahoma City on top 117-111, giving the Thunder their first lead greater than a single possession since the middle of the third quarter.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began slowly, at one point getting himself removed from the game just to be reminded to play his game by coach Billy Donovan.
“He wasn’t playing like himself,” Donovan said.
He responded, finishing with 24 points on 9 of 19 shooting.
The secret sauce was Terrance Ferguson, who said not only was it his not quite 1-year-old daughter’s first home game, a fact that had him all smiles afterward, but he had a feeling he’d have a big night before the tip.
“I was telling all my trainers before the game,” he said, “‘I’m feeling it, I’m feeling good.’”
Ferguson finished with 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting and 5 of 7 3-point shooting. His fourth-quarter 3 that brought OKC within 96-93 with 5:03 remaining might have been the game’s biggest shot until Gallinari rained in his overtime trifecta.
Early, the Thunder couldn’t buy a basket, falling behind by 10 points just seven minutes into the game. They also allowed a 54-49 halftime lead to become a four-point third-quarter deficit.
Nonetheless, said Donovan, a river ran through the victory.
“We stayed with it and kept staying with it and kept staying with it,” he said.
It didn’t hurt that OKC hit an uncharacteristic 35 of 41 free throws. Between them, Paul and Gallinari made 23 of 23.
The 76ers were a very tough out, matching the Thunder possession for possession until the trip down the court prior to Gallinari’s dagger.
Philadelphia center Joel Embiid finished with 31 points on 12 of 24 shooting that included a quartet of 3-pointers.
Josh Richardson made 10 of 15 from the field and finished with 28 points. Tobias Harris hit half of his 16 attempts and finished with 21.
The Thunder may not have stopped the 76ers, but they never quit answering.
Gallinari believes they needed it.
“We did, but especially after that game at Indiana,” he said, referencing a 26-point loss just three nights earlier. “We wanted to make sure we played Thunder basketball.”
If that’s what they did, there might be more where it came from.