Durant, Westbrook lead Thunder past Hawks, 103-94By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Friday, Dec 31, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Kevin Durant(notes), Russell Westbrook(notes) and the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off a dazzling 2010 that featured a rise into the upper echelon of the NBA, then stirred up some bad blood with the Atlanta Hawks just in time for the new year.
Durant hit a season-high five 3-pointers and scored 33 points, and Westbrook riled up the Hawks by topping off a triple-double with his 10th assist in the final seconds of the Thunder’s 103-94 victory on Friday night.
“You don’t do that. The game is over with,” Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. “The game is over with. You’ve got the ball, you run the clock out. Just that plain and simple.”
The final sequence brought an undesirable end to a brilliant performance by the Thunder at the finish of an unexpectedly successful 2010.
Oklahoma City finished the calendar year at 55-29—more regular-season wins than every team but San Antonio, Dallas, Utah, Orlando and Miami—while completing its rise from league laughingstock into a contender.
“When you’ve got the game won, you run the clock out,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Russell knows how I feel about situations like that, and it was a mistake, but I’m not going to let a mistake at the end of the game ruin what we’ve done tonight. I thought the game was as well as we’ve played both ends of the floor against one of the best teams in basketball.”
Durant went 3 for 3 on 3s during a 16-6 run in the fourth quarter as the Thunder put the game away after Atlanta had pulled within two points.
Jamal Crawford(notes) led Atlanta with 26 points and Josh Smith(notes) scored 23. Smith had to come out of the game for a while after he was cut on his head in the third quarter, and he only scored two points after returning in the fourth.
James Harden(notes) answered with a jumper with one second left on the shot clock, and Durant followed by rattling in a 3-pointer from the left wing as the Thunder started to rebuild their lead. Eric Maynor(notes) added a 3 of his own, and Durant hit two more 3s—one from the right wing and one from the top of the key—as Oklahoma City’s edge stretched to 99-87 with 4:42 to play.
It was a fitting finish to a year that saw Durant emerge as a superstar.
Durant was a first-time All-Star, became the youngest scoring champion in NBA history, led the Thunder to the playoffs for the first time and then was the MVP of the U.S. national team’s run to its first world championship since 1994. He also signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension with Oklahoma City.
“I’m just so blessed to be given a lot of opportunities and just thankful for everything,” said Durant, who’s again leading the NBA in scoring. “To sign that contract was probably one of the highlights because that really shows that you’ve grown as a player in this league. Also going over to Turkey and winning the gold medal ranks up there as well.”
For the third straight year, Oklahoma City is changing its calendar on a high note.
On New Year’s Eve two years ago, the Thunder beat Golden State to improve their record to 4-29 and provide one of the first glimmers of hope that the franchise wasn’t doomed to have the worst record in a season in NBA history. Last year, a one-point victory against Utah gave Oklahoma City its first five-game winning streak in more than four years.
At that point, the Thunder were 18-14 and just starting to show playoff potential. Now, they’re firmly entrenched as one of the league’s rising young teams.
“It was so much fun just to kind of transform into a different team, a different identity and be known as a team that can win basketball games,” Durant said.
Joe Johnson(notes) added 16 points and 11 assists for the Hawks, and Al Horford(notes) had 14 points. Marvin Williams(notes) missed the game with a lower back injury and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jason Collins(notes), who didn’t score.
Atlanta, which trailed by 14 in the first half, cut a 10-point deficit to 69-66 with a third-quarter burst that included the trip to the locker room by Smith.
Smith was fouled by Durant and then Ibaka whacked him on the head during his follow through when he blocked Smith’s shot. Smith held his head as he headed toward the locker room, and the Hawks had to burn a timeout to give him time to return and shoot his free throws or else rule him out for the rest of the game.
“The play that happened with Josh,” Drew said, “it’s a physical game and he got hit.”
NOTES: Drew isn’t particularly fond of playing on New Year’s Eve. “I like the holidays and I like being able to spend time with the family, with friends, during the holidays,” he said. “Every time our schedule comes out, it’s the first thing I look at. I look at where we are on the holidays, I look at where we are during my birthday.” … Atlanta is 1-4 without Williams, who missed four games earlier this season with a bone bruise in his right knee.