Durant scores 41, Thunder close out Nuggets 100-97By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Thursday, Apr 28, 2011
Durant matched his best playoff performance with 41 points, including the final nine for Oklahoma City, and the Thunder closed out their first-round series against the Nuggets with a 100-97 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
The Thunder overcame a nine-point deficit in the final 4 minutes, and Durant provided all the offense down the stretch to send the Oklahoma City franchise to its first playoff series win since it was still in Seattle in 2005.
“We willed ourselves to victory,” Durant said. “One thing that was going through my mind is like, `I don’t go back to Denver because it would be tough to win in there. I just don’t want to go back.’
“It was cold, it was raining, the fans said some not so nice words to us. We just didn’t want to go back.”
Instead of facing a tense Game 6 in Denver on Friday night, Oklahoma City is moving on to a second-round series against Memphis or top-seeded San Antonio, which stayed alive with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and beat the Grizzlies in overtime Wednesday to force a Game 6 in that series.
Denver had two chances to duplicate the Spurs’ performance, but Durant blocked J.R. Smith’s(notes) potential tying 3-pointer with 9 seconds left and Arron Afflalo(notes) missed another 3 at the buzzer.
The Nuggets have only made it out of the first round once during a stretch of eight straight postseason appearances—the first seven coming before Carmelo Anthony(notes) engineered a midseason trade to the Knicks this February.
“We have a lot of guys in that locker room who are banged up, and I think they gave a great stand. I’m proud to be a part of what they’ve done,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It’s going to be hard to swallow but I think we have a bright future and a bright energy coming out of Denver after a year that had many, many faces.”
The Nuggets were shooting 51 percent and seemed to be in control after Wilson Chandler(notes) and Ty Lawson(notes) had driving layups during an 8-2 run that pushed Denver’s lead to 91-82 with 4:15 to play. Chandler raced to the rim when Russell Westbrook(notes) didn’t switch over to him off of a screen, and Lawson blew past Durant for his easy basket.
Durant hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to start bringing the Thunder back, and he also connected on a leaner in the lane as Oklahoma City reeled off nine straight points to tie it at 91 on James Harden’s(notes) 3-pointer from the left side with 1:50 remaining.
He put Oklahoma City on top 96-95 with a three-point play with 1:05 remaining, connecting on a one-handed shot as he got knocked down in the lane.
Felton put Denver back ahead with two free throws after he tweaked his left ankle and had to be helped to the Nuggets bench. He walked gingerly to the line and hit both shots, but Durant and Ibaka made sure that turned out to be the Nuggets’ last lead.
Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay on two free throws with 46 seconds left. Ibaka then swatted Nene’s dunk attempt for his ninth block of the game, and what Durant considered the most important play.
Durant followed with a 19-foot jumper to put the Thunder up 100-97 with 12 seconds to go. He made six of seven shots—none of them layups or dunks—and scored 14 points during the final 4 minutes.
“When a guy gets going like that, I don’t care how many guys you put on Durant,” Karl said. “He probably was going to make shots.”
“When he gets hot like that, with his length and his ball-handling ability and his shot-making skills, it’s tough to stop,” Brooks said.
Brooks praised Durant—the NBA’s scoring champion the past two seasons— for getting better at handling the increasing double-teams that Denver sent his way after he scored 41 points in Game 1.
“I thought he grew up a lot in this series, just in that area,” Brooks said. “That’s something that I’m proud of because it takes a lot of effort to do that every night, every game, every quarter, every possession and that’s how teams do it.
“The stamina, the work ethic, the determination that he has pays off.”
It appeared the Nuggets would get one last chance to go ahead when referee Bill Spooner momentarily awarded them possession with 14.8 seconds left after Durant took an inbounds pass and whirled with the ball near the midcourt line. He then reversed his own call and gave the ball back to Oklahoma City, setting up Durant’s last jumper.
“They said if your momentum takes you backcourt, you can go,” Durant said. “I didn’t catch it in the frontcourt and just run backcourt. My momentum took me there. Good call on the ref.”
Westbrook had 14 points on 3-for-15 shooting, one game after he’d drawn criticism for attempting 30 shots.
Despite dreadful 37 percent shooting, Oklahoma City stuck with the Nuggets with a sizable edge in free-throw opportunities and offensive rebounds.
The Thunder made 34 of 42 foul shots—doubling the number of attempts Denver got—and also had 22 second-chance points off 16 offensive boards.
NOTES: Karl missed last year’s playoffs while being treated for throat and neck cancer. “I’m very thankful to be back coaching and healthy. I just wish tonight I could have helped a little bit more,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough pill. It’s going to be very bitter to get out of your system.” … Fans in the sellout crowd got free navy blue T-shirts that ended up matching the color of Denver’s alternate uniforms. … Lawson had made his first 19 free throws in the series before missing two key ones with 2:18 left in the game.