Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Schöder scored 23 points and Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Charlotte Hornets 109-104 on Friday night.

The Thunder improved to 12-6 on the season and now share a piece of first place in the Western Conference. It’s the first time since Jan. 27, 2012 the Thunder own a piece atop the Western Conference Playoffs at Game 18.

The Thunder did their best to blow it. They led by nine late in the fourth quarter but the Hornets, led by Kemba Walker, fought their way back, never tying the game but always pulling within one. Russell Westbrook hit some clutch free throws and grabbed some big rebounds to help secure the victory for Oklahoma City.

It’s the first time since the 2015-16 season the Thunder have swept Charlotte in the head-to-head season series.

The Thunder led for most of the game. The Hornets had a strong start to the second quarter and led 45-36 with 8:56 in the second quarter. However, Oklahoma City responded with a 14-4 run that gave Oklahoma City the lead with 5:10 remaining.

Oklahoma City led 62-57 at halftime.

The first half was the Deonte Burton show. The rookie two-way player showed up in absence of Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo, Burton scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and a couple of massive dunks to ignite the Thunder crowd.

Walker missed a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2.4 seconds left and Westbrook again rebounded and hit two free throws to seal the win for the Thunder. The Hornets made a push really late, just like they did in their first meeting on Nov. 1. Oklahoma City was once again able to hold them off.

Walker finished with 25 points for the Hornets. Jeremy Lamb finished with 18 points.

The Thunder have now have won 12 out of their last 14 games and over that span is the best in the NBA. Oklahoma City started the season 0-4 but have turned it on. They also own the largest margin of victory in the Western Conference.

Oklahoma City has a quick turn around as they’ll hop on a plane and head to the Mile High City to play the Denver Nuggets (12-7) at the Pepsi Center. That’s scheduled to tip-off at 8 p.m. Thunder time.

Keys to the Game

Play Fast: B

The grade is a B because Oklahoma City didn’t really play fast. However, they were able to use turnovers into transition and those fast break points were a huge difference into how Oklahoma City was able to handle the pace and space of the game. The Thunder outscored the Hornets 17-10 on the break.

Free Throws: F

The Thunder shot 16-of-24 from the line for 66.7 percent. Unacceptable. steven adams was 3-of-7. Paul George had zero free throw attempts. He’s usually good for a quality percentage. It would’ve helped the percentages.

Block out: D

Both teams tied in rebounds. Both had 35 defensive and 11 offensive rebounds. It’s rare that happens for Oklahoma City. Both teams were pretty level in second chance points (OKC 17, CHA 16). Oklahoma City could’ve been better. I don’t think the Hornets would complain about their rebounding performance tonight.

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Chuck Chaney

Founder & Editor-in-Chief.
Member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.