Kevin Durant gave Thunder fans quite the Christmas present tonight, dropping a season-high 44 on the Nuggets in a 114-106 win.
And he did it with just four points in the fourth quarter. Yet, he completely took over the game. How you ask?
As Durant would say, “hockey assist.”
After piling in 40 points through three quarters, including a spectacular 21-point third, Durant looked well on his way to a 50-point night. Or at least on his way to surpassing his career-high of 47. But the Nuggets threw a constant double-team at him every trip down and Durant showed off how much he’s improved. He passed with confidence out of the doubles, moved the ball to open men and found cutters in a position to score. Denver tried to take Durant out of the game by taking the ball out of his hands, but he took over by giving it up. Serious evolutionary stuff here people.
“The only thing I was thinking was ‘hockey assist’,” Durant said after the game. “I just wanted to catch the ball as close as I could to the basket and go from there.”
Of course Durant couldn’t lie after the game though. He looks at the scoreboard. He knew how many points he had. He had 50 on the brain. But he wasn’t going to get greedy on Christmas. He was fine with what he had and the only other present he wanted was a nice Thunder win under his tree.
“Back of my mind I wanted it bad, but I wanted a win worse,” he said.
Not to say Durant did this all by himself. He did score 44 on a slick 14-20 shooting, but James Harden poured in 21 off the bench and Russell Westbrook added 19. It’s a luxury the Thunder have. It’s one thing for your star to pass out of a double-team. It’s another to pass it to guys that can actually put the ball in the hold. That certainly helps.
Of course this game might’ve been a lot different had Carmelo Anthony been available. Anthony of course is away from the team currently after the death of his sister. But without him, Denver just didn’t know where to go – on both ends. George Karl tried a number of things with Durant. The aforementioned double, the bigger Kenyon Martin, the smaller J.R. Smith, the middle-sized Arron Afflalo – obviously it didn’t really work.
Wait, that’s exactly what Kenyon Martin said too when asked what the Nuggets tried. “Whatever it was, obviously it didn’t work. That kid’s a helluva player. He can shoot the ball with unlimited range so when a guy can do that it’s rough.”
But not only would Anthony have provided a natural fit defensively to check Durant, but also someone to look to on the offensive end. Chauncey Billups was great with 30 points on 10-16 shooting, Ty Lawson added a solid 19 and Nene had 21, but the Nuggets were missing that go-to option late in the game. OKC outscored them 26-21 in the final frame and pulled away to hold a 12-point lead late when Denver came up empty on multiple trips.
For the Thunder, it’s a nice bounce-back win after dropping a sloppy loss to the Knicks last Wednesday. For the Nuggets, it’s the third loss in four tries, but a valiant try without Anthony. And for the Thunder’s star, it was quite the gift to a sold out crowd in OKC. Not quite the 50 he was hoping for, but like Durant said, the win will do just fine.
“It’s been a great Christmas already so far,” Durant said. “Waking up in the morning with all my family around, opening gifts and just having the opportunity to play the game of basketball on Christmas. Not too many people get to do what they love to do, so getting to do it on Christmas Day in front of family felt great. But to get 50 would’ve been a cherry on top.”
- Big differences in the game? Free throws and turnovers. Denver shot almost 53 percent, but turned it over 16 times to OKC’s seven the Thunder went 28-35 from the line.
- KD scored 44, again three off his career-high. He missed three free throws.
- This is Durant’s first 40-pointer this season. He scored at least 40 eight times last year. I can’t tell how much I love it when he plays like this. It’s like, well, it’s like something.
- How awesome was James Harden? Durant had 19 at the half, but Harden poured in 14, all of them coming in the second quarter. He finished with 21 and was a perfect complementary scorer to KD in this one. And you should’ve seen his postgame swag. It was like Craig Sager grew an awesome beard and knew how to coordinate colors.
- The best thing Harden did was feel the game tonight. He totally worked into a flow. He scored all 14 of his points in the second quarter but didn’t check back in until three minutes left in the third. He then scored his next basket with a little over 11 minutes left in the fourth. But he never drifted and stayed locked in. Big steps for Harden lately.
- Jeff Green struggled shooting the ball going 5-15 from the field, but was really good I thought. He had a game-high six assists and was solid defensively.
- With about 30 seconds left in the third, Durant went for the two-for-one. He fired up a DEEP 3. Most times, you might think it was a poor shot. With the way KD was playing, I don’t know if I could’ve thought of a better shot. That’s how locked in he was. Of course he airballed, but still, don’t tell me you didn’t think it was going on.
- The hefty guy with the mask that always uses that bullhorn to yell at opposing free throw shooters removed his shirt tonight and added some tinsel and lights around his body. He got Kenyon Martin’s attention on one of them, causing him to laugh.
- Of course everyone had the yellow colorways on tonight, sans Serge Ibaka. His contract with Adidas prevented it. Westbrook actually wasn’t wearing the KD III’s either, but they were close enough. I thought they looked pretty good. Better than the Creamsicles.
- BIG NEWS: Byron Mullens shaved. Kind of. He’s got a goatee-ish thing going on now.
- Why do people always get super loud when the Noise Meter goes up? Do they actually think they’re moving the needle? The only other time people freak out that much is when someone says, “FREE T-SHIRT”.
- The Thunder successfully executed an iso KD to end the first. Durant handled it perfectly. The Nuggets started to send a double but Durant felt it, pulled the ball back a tick and then attacked to the opposite side. He can figure it out. It’s just taking some time.
- Kenyon Martin said after the game he thinks the rip move is a cheap basketball play. He said he’d like to “take the rip move out of basketball” and that he doesn’t think it’s playing basketball. He confessed to Chauncey Billups using is successfully at times, but isn’t a fan. I asked KD about it after the game and he basically said he’s going to do it as long as the rules let him. How could it possibly be cheap or tacky though? To me it’s a smart basketball play. A foul’s a foul. It’s just a useful move that a good player knows how to use.
- With Krstic back, Cole Aldrich was back to being inactive.
- If you told me that I had to stay in front of Ty Lawson or someone would drop an ATM on my face (I just watched Season 1 and 2 of Breaking Bad), I’d just lay down on the floor and make it easier for them. Lawson is about as quick a player as you’re going to see.
Next up: Home versus the Mavericks Monday.