Kevin Durant is clearly a one-upper.
Russell Westbrook had the arena chanting his name. Had everyone inside Chesapeake Arena behind him, believing in him, supporting him.
And then Durant went all Durant and hit a game-winning shot. Such is the life of a second banana, I guess.
Westbrook appeared to have re-discovered what makes him such a major part of the Thunder though, which isn’t to be overlooked. Westbrook carried the Thunder to the finish line, but Durant pushed Oklahoma City over. That’s a team.
Vince Carter looked to have ripped the Thunder’s heart out with a go-ahead 3 with 1.4 seconds left during an emotional game against the team that eliminated the Thunder in last season’s playoffs. It had the feeling of another devastating, heartbreaking Mavs loss. With OKC up five, Jason Terry drills a 3. Then Serge Ibaka had a critical double-miss that left the door open for Carter and the Mavs.
But in came Durant to save the day, drilling a gorgeous 3 at the buzzer. Was it a perfect play drawn up by Scott Brooks? Not much different than the ones we saw all of last season, which is to say, no. This one just happened to go in.
“I just tried to shoot a good one,” Durant said. “I’m just glad I made it, man. I’m glad I made it.”
This game was almost a perfect snapshot of the Thunder though. If you ever want to try and explain this team and how it functions with Westbrook and Durant, here’s your go-to tape. Durant and James Harden kept OKC’s head above water as Westbrook struggled again for the first 44 minutes or so. Finally, using a fastbreak dunk and-1, Westbrook found a spark. He entered the game with 6:41 left 3-11 for nine points. He finished 3-4 with seven of the Thunder’s final seven. But it was Durant’s last three that sealed it.
Call it exorcising demons, call it revenge, but this win has to taste a little sweeter for the Thunder. The Mavs weren’t only a major thorn in the Thunder’s backside during the playoffs, but beat Oklahoma City in the most painful ways possible. A Game 4 meltdown and then a crushing Game 5 loss left the Thunder looking for answers in Dallas as their season abruptly came to an end.
“That was about as hard as we can play,” Scott Brooks said. “At the end of a game you want everybody on your team to have an empty gas tank and everybody was empty.”
Durant’s shot did a lot of things. One, it beat the Mavericks, finally. But it also helped cleanse the last 24 hours a bit. Nobody is going to be talking about him and Westbrook, at least not for now. At least not for the wrong reasons. You may be saying, “THAT’S why this is KD’s team!” but Westbrook would agree with you tonight. He said after the game, “He lives for shots like that. He has come such a long way and I’m happy for him man.”
If there was ever something symbolic of somebody putting their foot down and telling everyone to shutup and move on, it was Durant drilling that 3. Another growing moment for this young Thunder group. Another experience for them to tuck away in their pocket and call upon at a later time when needed.
It’s just the fourth game of a long, but also short, 66-game season. Still, there was something more to this one, for a whole lot of different reasons.
- One of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experience inside that arena was the crowd chanting “RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL!” after he finished the and-1 dunk. KD was walking around waving his arms in the air for more. It was a special moment. “It’s amazing man,” Westbrook said. “It’s amazing what these fans will do for you man. I love this city and my teammates. I’m just thankful.”
- “There’s a reason you never give up on Russell Westbrook. Because Russell don’t care.” That was the lede I had written with a minute left to go. Boy, that one got changed around, huh?
- KD said all he remembers before the final play was Reggie Jackson saying he was going to make that last shot.
- KD on Westbrook: “The crowd was unbelievable tonight encouraging him and I think that gave him some extra push. We can only do so much. We’re always on top of him encouraging but the fans for the fans to do that meant a lot and he hit some big shots … That shows how much they follow us out there. For them to encourage him like that was beautiful to see. I’m glad he was able to carry us in the last few minutes of the fourth and lead us to a good win.”
- If Scott Brooks doesn’t want to start James Harden, he should at least do it against Dallas. Harden was +22, Thabo was -19. OKC trailed early but went on an 18-4 run after Harden checked in. Then the Mavs started the second half 16-6, but OKC went on a 13-5 spurt once Harden entered again. Wake up there, Scott.
- For 95 percent of this game, it was hard not to notice Westbrook’s body language. It was hard to tell if he was depressed or pouting, or if it was more him trying to stay calm and keep an even keel despite struggling again.
- Westbrook bouncing back was really a special thing to see. I honestly have a funny taste in my mouth over the way this game ended, because it seemed like it was going to be Westbrook’s night. He was going to be the story. But then Durant came in and stole all the glory from him again. This could almost be a tougher thing to cope with than the issues of last night and today. It’s another character test for the young point guard.
- Holy turnovers, batman. The Thunder turned it over 26 times which led to 29 Dallas points. Cut those in half and OKC wins by 15.
- KD had six assists again. He hasn’t had less than three yet this season.
- Did you see OKC go to the new crunchtime play again late? And it worked with KD hitting a nice free throw line jumper.
- OKC likes trying to work Perk in the post, but he has one move and one move only. Fake turn over his right shoulder on the catch and then try and muscle his defender down as close to the rim as possible and then turn and shoot a hook over his left shoulder. That’s it.
- Except for that one time tonight where he got it on the other block and turned over his right shoulder.
- SERGE IBAKA IS INSANE WITH ANGER. I am completely petrified looking at this picture. Nightmares, me, tonight.
- Westbrook’s jumper was off again and it looked to me he was holding the ball just a touch too long and releases on the way down instead of the peak of his leap. That’s why most everything is short. It’s out of rhythm.
- Ibaka is definitely OK. 37 minutes, three blocks, 16 points and eight rebounds. And he nearly killed Vince Carter.
- KD’s handle is so much improved. Maybe the top thing he’s gotten better at over the summer. I think that’s why his assists are going up is because he controls the ball better.
- Not really feeling Eric Maynor’s new runner that he shotputs 40 feet into the air.
- Harden, quietly terrific again. He finished with 15 on 4-8 shooting and did most his damage in the first half.
- I nearly died via t-shirt cannon tonight. I got smacked hard in the back of the neck with a balled up shirt. I thought it was all over for me.
- The Thunder shot 58.7 percent tonight! And almost lost. Why? Because the Mavs took 27 more shots than OKC.
- How good was Perk on Dirk? Take that Chris Webber.
- Tonight’s pregame mood was definitely different. The team was subdued, quiet and somber. I don’t know if it was about what happened last night and today, but there was certainly some tension in the air. The team talked about the supposed incident and basically said it didn’t happen.
Next up: Phoenix at home New Year’s Eve.