THUNDER QUELL SIXERS IN MANCHESTER

NBA-Manchester-02Reggie Jackson led the way with 27 points as the Oklahoma Thunder held on for a 103-99 victory over Philadelphia 76ers but the talking point of the night as the NBA came to Manchester for a pre-season clash on Tueday was Kevin Durant’s near-triple double of 21 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds.
Jackson kept his nerve at the line late on to preserve the win for the Thunder but Durant’s one-man show in the third quarter laid most of the ground work for the win. “I try to lead by example and work hard,” he said.

OKC centre Kendrick Perkins was rested for the game, having dislocated a finger in the Thunder’s pre-season win over Fenerbahce in Turkey. With Russell Westbrook remaining stateside while he recovers from his knee injury, it gave a chance for second year guard Jackson to step into Westbrook’s shoes and although short-handed, the Thunder still had just enough to deny the Sixers an unlikely victory.

Fifteen months after his last appearance in Manchester, with Team USA, Durant was the star that most fans – including Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand – came to see, with the majority of the replica jerseys in what was a well below-capacity crowd bearing his name. “It was a great atmosphere the fans were unbelievable, they deserve NBA games coming over,” he added.

The All-Star made some great plays, including a three-pointer from the corner and a breakaway dunk which got one of the biggest cheers of the night, but he at times he was more interested in setting up his team-mates for baskets, perhaps looking to talk on a bigger creative role while Westbrook is out.

This unconventional point-forward role for Durant paid dividends for the Thunder as they began to take control of the game and pull away in the third quarter from a Sixers side that were the better team in the first half.

But when Philadelphia began to get close again late in the quarter, Durant went back to doing what he does best — putting the ball in the hoop. His three-pointer ensured the Thunder would go into the final 12 minutes of the game with an 83-74 advantage and Durant was just two rebounds shy of recording a triple double.

He wouldn’t get a chance to add to his tally as he took a seat on the bench at the beginning of the fourth, his night over. The Sixers took advantage to respond with a 11-2 run to force the Thunder to call timeout with the game tied 85-85.
Whatever Scott Brooks said during the timeout worked as the Thunder replied with an 8-0 run of their own, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson taking over where Durant left off.

The Sixers won’t win too many games this season but Brett Brown’s young side have a battling quality about them and they deserved to still be in the game with 1.48 remaining, only trailing 97-94.

Evan Turner had enjoyed a good game for Philly, causing problems for the Thunder with his driving lay-ups, but surprisngly it was young guard Tony Wroten who had a team-best 20 points on the night.

Turner’s inability to make his free throws and Jackson’s efficiency at the line proved to be the difference between the teams in the end, but the Sixers will take some encouragement from their performance.

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