Durant’s game-winner lifts Thunder 101-98By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Jan 23, 2011
“Once I let it go, it felt like everybody went silent,” Durant said. “And once it went in, I really couldn’t hear too much. I was just looking towards the bench. Once I snapped back into it, I really heard the crowd.
“That’s one of the all-time best feelings that I’ve had so far in this league.”
Durant was tightly guarded by Danilo Gallinari(notes) but connected while leaning back in front of the Knicks’ bench to extend New York’s losing streak to six games—matching their longest of the season.
The Thunder hadn’t led since the first 2 minutes of the second quarter, but erased a six-point deficit in the final 3 minutes to escape their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“It’s always a tough loss when it’s a game-winner like that.”
Gallinari scored 23 points and Amare Stoudemire(notes) had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Knicks. Stoudemire also picked up his 13th technical foul of the season, as part of a double-technical with Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka(notes) in the fourth quarter.
Russell Westbrook(notes) scored 28 points and Ibaka had 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Thunder. Durant also had 12 rebounds and distanced himself from a brief shooting slump that materialized during Oklahoma City’s back-to-back losses.
Durant had made only one-third of his shots in the Thunder’s road losses to the Lakers and Nuggets, then started out 5 for 16 against New York, shaking his head when a 3-point attempt hit the front and back rim before bouncing away.
That’s when it all started turning around.
Durant finally broke through with a 3 from the top of the key with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, and also hit a runner during a quick 7-0 burst that got Oklahoma City back within 77-75 for the start of the fourth.
When it came down to a tie game with 6.5 seconds left, Durant let coach Scott Brooks know he wanted the ball despite his recent struggles.
“It’s all a lesson, I think,” Durant said. “I was getting some great shots. I was getting into the lane. Some shots were short. I think I was aiming it a little bit too much and they were just falling off the rim. But I stuck with it.”
Durant hadn’t hit a game-winner since his rookie season, when the franchise was still in Seattle. He went on to win Rookie of the Year, then became the NBA’s youngest scoring champion last season and is leading the league again this season.
Durant’s inability to hit clutch shots with the game on the line was among the few things left to criticize about the All-Star.
“To be honest, it feels good,” Durant said. “I’ve missed so many of those. To finally make one, it feels good.”
Durant calmly walked back toward the Oklahoma City bench after the shot, cracking a wide smile before being swarmed and eventually knocked to the floor by his teammates.
“Really, I didn’t know what to think,” Durant said. “I was just happy, of course, and I just saw my teammates run on the floor. That’s probably the best feeling about it is seeing my teammates run on the floor and celebrate with me. That felt good.”
Oklahoma City fell behind 60-53 at halftime after allowing 19 fast-break points, and Brooks delivered a speech he said wouldn’t have received his mother’s approval after what he called “an embarrassing performance defensively.”
The Thunder didn’t allow a single fast-break point after halftime and then made all the key stops down the stretch.
Oklahoma City started climbing its way out of the six-point hole when Westbrook converted a three-point play after being fouled by Toney Douglas(notes) on a jumper. Durant followed Stoudemire’s miss with a jumper to get the Thunder within 96-95 with 2:07 remaining.
Felton answered with a second-chance jumper at the other end, but he missed twice as the Thunder were able to tie it with two free throws from Ibaka and then one by Westbrook with 29.1 seconds left. A third miss by Felton, on a 17-footer with about 8 seconds left, opened the door for Durant.
“They did a good job of contesting shots. I just missed some,” Felton said. “I missed some shots. A couple times I went to the basket, it could have went either way with the calls. You know how that goes, but whatever.”
Notes: Of players drafted in 2007, Durant (25.7), Jeff Green(notes) (14.1) and Wilson Chandler(notes) (14.1) have the highest career scoring averages. … Oklahoma City G Daequan Cook(notes) played for the first time since Nov. 12 and missed his only two shots in 10 minutes on the floor. He had been on the inactive list for 18 straight games, and 28 of the past 29. … Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said his lineup tinkering will likely be limited to switching between Chandler and Ronny Turiaf(notes). “If we start to get on a hot streak, we’ll kind of stay the same way. But we can mess with these two,” D’Antoni said. “It’ll probably be one or the other. It won’t be radical.”