Kevin Durant’s big second half featured just the kind of performance the Oklahoma City Thunder needed in the closer’s role.
Durant scored 28 of his 40 points after halftime, Russell Westbrook added 22 points and 11 assists, and the Thunder avenged a loss at Memphis earlier this week by beating the Grizzlies 109-100 on Saturday night.
Durant eclipsed 40 points for the second time in two weeks, hitting a pair of free throws and then a jumper from the left elbow after Memphis had pulled within two in the final 2 minutes. That started a string of nine straight points for Oklahoma City to put away the game.
”I don’t know if I should classify this as an ugly game, but it was a physical game and every possession was very critical and important because both teams were giving everything they had,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
”At this time, you have to battle. You have to win these games.”
Zach Randolph had 27 points and 16 rebounds – including nine on the offensive end – and Rudy Gay scored 20 for the Grizzlies. Memphis beat Oklahoma City 110-105 on Tuesday night in Tennessee but held a lead for only 46 seconds during the third quarter in the rematch.
”Our guys played really hard and gave it all they had,” said coach Lionel Hollins, whose Grizzlies were denied their second four-game winning streak of the season. ”We just did not have enough to get it done tonight.”
After trailing almost the entire night, Memphis got within two points on five separate occasions in the final 6 minutes. Yet the Grizzlies never got the chance to take a shot to forge a tie or take the lead, as Oklahoma City’s players took turns providing an answer each time.
Nick Collison dunked, Westbrook hit a jumper, Collison made two free throws, Durant dropped in a floater and then Durant hit two foul shots. Then finally, the Thunder were able to put it away with a series of defensive stops.
”It was kind of a grind-it-out game. We never really seemed to get a real run going but we were able to keep them down pretty much the whole game,” Collison said. ”We just kind of kept them at arm’s length and then pulled away at the end.
”It was a kind of workmanlike effort. Sometimes it’s good to get those and we’ll definitely take a win.”
Randolph had 31 points and 16 rebounds in the first meeting, when the Grizzlies had an 11-rebound advantage and a 12-3 edge in offense rebounds.
This time, Oklahoma City outrebounded the Grizzlies 47-40 despite being outscored 60-38 in the paint.
”Zach Randolph is a monster down there and he played well tonight, but I think that we made it a little tougher on him,” Durant said. ”We didn’t give him those easy baskets like he got last game and he had to work for everything.
”He’s an All-Star, so you know he’s going to make tough shots and he did tonight.”
The only other 40-point game this season by Durant, last year’s NBA scoring champion and the current scoring leader, came in a 44-point outing against Denver on Christmas night. He went 13 for 24 from the field and added 13 free throws, eight rebounds and four assists.
After Oklahoma City had let a 12-point lead slip away, Durant led the way as the Thunder restored their lead with a 14-4 run late in the third quarter. Durant dunked with two hands, hit a fadeaway jumper and then made a 3-pointer from the left wing before Westbrook’s two free throws made it 81-71.
Memphis stayed right in the thick of it with O.J. Mayo’s dunk and Sam Young’s reverse layup at the end of the third, and Darrell Arthur’s jumper to begin the fourth quarter cut the deficit to four.
But the Grizzlies couldn’t get over the hump again.
”There are games like this,” Arthur said. ”We had a game last night and it just seemed like we were winded at times. That is no excuse. We are supposed to come out and play to win. We did not do that tonight.”
Notes: Memphis rookie and Oklahoma City native Xavier Henry missed his seventh straight game with a sore right knee. … A new NBA commercial shows Durant sitting with high-school teammates, who included the Grizzlies’ Greivis Vasquez. In it, a man tells Durant he’ll someday play for the Oklahoma City Thunder (who didn’t exist at the time). ”It’s footage of me from high school, but that guy wasn’t there,” Durant said. ”He wasn’t there that day. I had a dream about something like that. It wasn’t that exact thing, but I had a dream about something like that and it was cool that they brought that to life.” … Memphis was 1 for 15 on 3-pointers. Mayo made the Grizzlies’ last attempt with 24 seconds left in the game.