Auburn Hills — On its own, it probably doesn’t constitute enough to be called a beef, but the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t take kindly to Reggie Jackson’s celebration in the final seconds of the Pistons’ 88-82 win on Tuesday at The Palace.
With 1.1 seconds remaining and the Pistons ahead by four, Jackson raised his arms and attempted to rouse the Pistons fans, also celebrating his first win over his former team.
Of note, the Pistons moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings and are on course to make the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. The Thunder are almost locked into the No. 3 seed in the West and rested two of their starters, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
Even without them, the Thunder (52-23), were within striking distance, trailing by one with five minutes to go.
But Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who has had some past words for Jackson, took exception to the display.
“I thought it was some real bull---- for our team and our organization, I don’t like it at all,” Westbrook told Oklahoma City reporters. “But it is what it is. We’ll see him down the line. We’ll take care of that when we get there.”
Jackson was a reserve with the Thunder before the Pistons acquired him last season to be their starting point guard. Jackson signed a long-term deal in the summer but there is still some animosity between Westbrook and Jackson.
Asked about their relationship, Westbrook shared his assessment of Jackson:
“He wasn’t changing nothing for us. Obviously, he didn’t want to be here. He’s at a better spot,” Westbrook told reporters. “He’s not doing too much different (in Detroit) if you ask me. He’s gonna stay over in Detroit. We gonna stay over here and we’ll see them next season.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan was incredulous as well, questioning Jackson’s celebration.
“I don’t know what that was for,” Donovan said in his postgame comments. “It’s only one game and there’s a lot more to play for.”
The Pistons and Thunder won’t play again — unless they meet in the NBA Finals — but next year’s first meeting may have some added interest.
Durant, Ibaka rest
The Thunder rested two starters, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, a growing trend among teams toward the end of the season.
At 30 games over .500, the Thunder was firmly entrenched as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, 5-1/2 games ahead of the Clippers.
Oklahoma City was on the second game of a back-to-back, having won at Toronto on Monday night.
The Thunder was on an eight-game winning streak.
“With the back-to-back, we really felt like there was a good opportunity to do this for Serge and Kevin,” coach Billy Donovan said before the game.
Durant is averaging 28 points, 8.3 rebounds and five assists and Ibaka is at 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.
But with eight games remaining, Donovan saw an opportunity to rest two of his starters.
Tuesday’s game might not be the last time an opponent rests some of its starters. The Pistons face the East-leading Cavaliers in the regular-season finale on April 13. If the seeding holds, the Raptors and Pistons would play in the first round.
Hoping for the best
In a superstar-driven league, plenty of teams have breakout scorers — the Thunder has two in Durant and Russell Westbrook — but the challenge of trying to keep them in check isn’t a concern for the Pistons.
Van Gundy said he doesn’t try to find some defensive elixir to try to shut down superstars; rather, it’s just doing the best they can and hoping the shots don’t fall.
“I have never, ever thought I had an answer to the great players in this league,” Van Gundy said.
“You come up with the best plan you think you can; you try not to give them easy stuff and put them on the line a lot and you hope they don’t have one of their best nights.”