The Hawks better hope Durant doesn’t begin February the way he ended January.
Durant scored a season-high 45 in the Thunder’s latest victory, and the NBA’s leading scorer last month will try to stay hot Tuesday night as Oklahoma City concludes a four-game homestand with a visit from the Hawks.
The Thunder (26-21) started 13-13, a vast improvement from last season’s 23-59 record but hardly one that looked like it would put them in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Durant’s last 21 games, however, have locked up the former No. 2 overall pick’s first All-Star spot and inserted Oklahoma City in the postseason conversation. The 2007-08 rookie of the year has scored at least 25 points in every game during that stretch while the Thunder have gone 13-8, and his 32.1-point average in January was the best in the league.
Durant closed the month Sunday with a performance Golden State coach Don Nelson described as “sensational,” scoring 45 points on 16 of 21 shooting to lift Oklahoma City to a 112-104 win.
“It was one of my better games but I’m greedy. I like to make every shot,” Durant said. “I left a couple short if I had left my hand up longer maybe they would have gone in, but I’m happy with the win. We just have to stay humble, keep working hard and good things will happen.”
The Thunder improved to 15-6 when Durant hits at least half of his shots.
Atlanta (30-16) held Durant to 7 of 19 shooting and 29 points on Jan. 18 at home, but Oklahoma City - among the league’s top five defensive teams at 95.7 points per game - escaped with a win anyway. The Thunder held the Hawks to 40.0 percent shooting in a 94-91 victory, Atlanta’s only home loss in its past eight games.
“It was like the rim had a lid on it,” said top-scoring reserve Jamal Crawford(notes), who had 12 points on 4 of 14 shooting and missed a potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer. “The shots just wouldn’t go down for us.”
Crawford’s having the most efficient season of his career, shooting 45.9 percent, and his league-best 17.7 points per game off the bench have him among the front runners for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award.
When he’s shot poorly, Atlanta hasn’t fared well. They Hawks are 17-5 when he shoots 50 percent or better but 7-9 when he make 40 percent or fewer.
Crawford had one of those games Saturday in Orlando, one night after going 9 of 16 and scoring a team-high 28 points in a 100-91 win over Boston. He shot 6 of 17 in the Hawks’ 104-86 loss to the Magic, the third time Orlando has beaten Atlanta by at least 17 points this season.
“We haven’t figured (Orlando) out, that’s all I can tell you,” coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s about coming out and having a lot of heart and we didn’t do that for 48 minutes.”
Atlanta was outrebounded 43-34 against the Magic, and the Thunder held a 48-44 edge on the boards in their meeting last month. Nenad Krstic(notes), Serge Ibaka(notes) and Jeff Green(notes) had 28 of those rebounds, while Krstic doubled his 8.0-point average.