Before the series, the question was whether the Denver Nuggets’ balance or the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star power would prevail.
Score one for the stars.
Durant scored a career-high 41 points, Russell Westbrook added 31, and the Oklahoma City Thunder had just enough to topple the stubborn Denver Nuggets 107-103 Sunday night at the Oklahoma City Arena. Durant scored 25 on 9-for-13 shooting in the second half, and at one point scored or assisted on 22 of 25 Thunder points.
“It feels good,” Durant said. “Last year in the playoffs, I didn’t shoot the way I wanted to, but this is a new season.”
After the top two seeds in the Western Conference were upset earlier in the day, the Thunder seemed doomed to continue the trend after Denver hit their first seven attempts from the field and raced to an early double-digit advantage.
Westbrook sustained his team’s offense in the opening sequence, scoring 11 of the Thunder’s first 17 points and providing the only scoring punch for a squad that shot just 6-for-17 in the opening frame. Westbrook hit 12-of-23 attempts from the field, including three of four from three-point range.
But one of Westbrook’s misses may have been just as crucial.
With just over a minute remaining in the final frame and the Thunder trailing 101-100, Westbrook’s miss from 16 feet was tipped in by center Kendrick Perkins while it appeared to be above the rim.
“It’s obviously a major stop. It’s obviously goaltending,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “I mean, the ball doesn’t even get outside the cylinder. It’s not even outside the cylinder, so how can you not see that?”
The controversial tip-in sparked a 7-2 Thunder run to close the game.
“There was a lot of calls that could have probably got questioned tonight, so it ain’t just that one,” Perkins, who struggled covering Nugget center Nene in his playoff debut with the Thunder, said. “It happens. That’s how it is, and at the end of the day we’ve just got to move on.”
The Thunder struggled to stay within single digits through most of the first half, but raced to a 10-2 run to pull within 60-59 at intermission.
Westbrook and Durant teamed up to score the Thunder’s final 14 points before intermission, including a flurry in the final 42 seconds.
Westbrook hit a slashing Durant, who contorted at the basket to finish a difficult layup before crashing to the floor. Durant immediately sprung from the ground to stop Nugget guard Ty Lawson in transition, and a block led to free throws for Durant.
Westbrook followed with a steal and dunk in the Thunder’s last possession in the second quarter.
“Kevin and Russell were terrific,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “The ball was falling for them, they were making tough shots. That’s what they do, they make shots.”
Durant added nine rebounds, Westbrook retrieved six caroms and had seven assists. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka had four blocks and guard Eric Maynor, the only other Thunder player in double digits, scored 12 points on five-of-seven shooting.
“[Maynor] doesn’t get a lot of credit,” Brooks said, “the backup point guard is such a critical position to play and he did a great job.”
The Nuggets and Thunder will tilt again Wednesday night in Oklahoma City before games three and four in Denver.
Our thanks to Hoops Addict for this basketball article.