OKLAHOMA CITY – During his Tuesday award ceremony, the NBA's newest MVP described Russell Westbrook as an MVP-caliber player in his own right. A day later, the Los Angeles Clippers received a reminder of just what Kevin Durant was talking about.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 63 points, 22 rebounds and 19 assists as the Thunder evened their second-round series against the Clippers with a 112-101 victory on Wednesday night in Game 2. If Durant had finished with one more assist, he and Westbrook would have been the first NBA teammates to each have a triple-double in the same playoff game.
"We set the bar high for ourselves," Durant said. "We have a high standard we are trying to reach. We both work extremely hard. The one thing about Russ is he demands so much out of everybody. He brings the level of the team up just by his intensity and his effort.
"It is fun playing with a guy like that who loves the game so much and wants to win so much. He puts his body on the line for us every night. It's great chemistry that we have. It's growing every day."
Durant's heartfelt acceptance speech during Tuesday's MVP ceremony was emotionally felt across the country. He called his mother "the real MVP," and he also thanked his oft-criticized teammate – Westbrook.
"You got a big piece of this," Durant told Westbrook during Tuesday's ceremony. "You're an MVP-caliber player. It's a blessing to play with you."
Those words meant a lot to Westbrook.
"I love him like a brother," said Westbrook, who had a triple-double of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 4. "We've been together since I've been here. He's taught me so much as a player and even things off the floor. I'm really grateful for what he said."
A day after he was officially named MVP, Durant's coronation extended into Wednesday. He spent nearly 10 minutes before the game in a private room with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Thunder owner Clay Bennett. Silver then presented Durant with the trophy shortly before tipoff. Clippers coach Doc Rivers joked the pregame MVP ceremony could be long if Durant decided to individually thank each fan.
This time, Durant kept the presentation short.
"I was so focused on the game, but I didn't want to take that moment for granted," Durant said.
Jay Z, whose sports agency now represents Durant, sat courtside at Game 2. Durant gave him something to cheer about 40 seconds into the game by making a 3-pointer.
Durant's performance in Game 2 wasn't a response to his MVP honor as much as the pain of the Thunder getting routed by the Clippers in Game 1.
"Guys were pissed off," said Durant, who had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Game 2. "They wanted to come back and respond. I think that's what fueled tonight."
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan hit Durant with a hard screen that sent him flying in the air and then to the ground with about 3:45 left in the second quarter. Durant shook off the hit, and by halftime he and Westbrook had combined for 40 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
"They were just aggressive," Clippers guard Chris Paul said. "I think Russ played harder than all of us combined. He was all over the place."
Rivers was disappointed by his team's effort and its inability to keep Durant's and Westbrook's teammates from scoring.
Thabo Sefolosha scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins also combined for 22 points and 16 rebounds. No Clippers player reached 20 points or double digits in rebounds. The Thunder shot 50.6 percent from the field and outrebounded the Clippers 52-36. Rivers also thought the Clippers became too distracted with referees' calls.
"They're very good players," Rivers said of Durant and Westbrook. "I still believe that's only 63 points. You can still win the game, and we've beaten them before when they had great games.
"I don't like how they scored. It was too easy."
Rivers didn't envision a quick series against the Golden State Warriors in the first round. He was right – it lasted a grueling seven games. He also doesn't expect a quick series for the Clippers and Thunder.
"This is going to be a hard series," Rivers said. "They got the MVP on their team now. They didn't have that at the beginning of their series. And Westbrook gets criticized a lot, but I don't know why. The dude plays hard and he's tough, and you saw that tonight."