Being a starting point guard in the NBA has been a learning process for Reggie Jackson. With guard Russell Westbrook still out of service, Jackson is still learning to be the consistent director the Oklahoma City Thunder need.
Facing the shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson played like a veteran as he helped spur the Thunder to a 106-97 victory Wednesday at 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," forward Kevin Durant said of Jackson, who finished with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and added nine assists while turning it over only once.
"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."
Durant finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to lead the Thunder (40-11). Center Kendrick Perkins grabbed 12 boards, and forward Serge Ibaka scored 14.
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. 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 Ibaka tipped in a missed layup by Durant to give the Thunder a 12-point advantage. Jackson added a 3-pointer to close out the night.
Rubio led the Timberwolves (24-25) with 19 points and five assists. Forward Dante Cunningham scored 18 points, and he and Rubio each grabbed eight rebounds.
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said he was proud of his team, which was playing without three starters.
"It was a tough game," Adelman said. "They busted their tails 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 landed painfully on his back Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. That left the Timberwolves trying to run their offense through Rubio and forward Ronny Turiaf.
Rubio responded with nine first-quarter points, and Minnesota trailed 26-25 heading into the second quarter.
"Without (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 period by getting 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 Durant's 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 a 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."
NOTES: Minnesota F Kevin Love (back) was a last-minute scratch, but coach Rick Adelman said there were no worries about a concussion. "He is pretty stiff," Adelman said. "He took a hard fall. He didn't hit his head or anything. More his neck. Kind of whiplash." ... Minnesota C Nikola Pekovic missed his fifth consecutive game due to bursitis in his right ankle. ... Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks likes the two-man game Fs Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have built this season. "Ibaka is starting to have a feel for the game," Brooks said. "Especially the two-man game between him and KD. KD is going to demand a lot of attention. Most teams will put an extra body on KD and Serge is one of the best midrange shooters in the game." ... Durant captured his third consecutive NBA Western Conference Player of the Month award as he helped the Thunder to a 13-4 record in January. He averaged 35.9 points during the month.