Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook did most of the damage for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
One of Kendrick Perkins’ only two baskets may get most of the attention.
Durant scored 41 points, Westbrook added 31 and Perkins provided the go-ahead basket on a controversial tip-in as the Thunder pulled out a 107-103 win against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
Westbrook’s jumper from the right side caromed off the rim and Perkins was credited for the tip-in with 1:06 remaining to put Oklahoma City up 102-101. Several Nuggets looked for it to be waved off as basket interference, and coach George Karl insisted after the game: ”Obviously it was goaltending.”
It won’t go down that way, and the Thunder will take a 1-0 lead into Game 2 Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
”There’s a lot of calls that would have probably got questioned tonight, so it ain’t just that one. So, we’re going to keep playing,” Perkins said. ”It happens. The game, that’s how it is.
”At the end of the day, we’ve just got to move on.”
The Thunder leaned heavily on their two All-Stars, who both scored more than they did in any of the Thunder’s six games last postseason.
Nene had 22 points and eight rebounds to lead Denver, which used a well-rounded effort after dealing away its only All-Star, Carmelo Anthony, at the trade deadline.
”There are a lot of ways to win games down the stretch, and I think big-time shooters, big-time scorers are one,” Karl said. ”But there are also a lot of other ways to win close games.”
After Perkins’ tip-in, Kenyon Martin misfired on a jumper from the left wing that could’ve put Denver back ahead.
Westbrook then waited patiently deep on the left wing while Durant tried to fight his way open, but had to take matters into his own hands. He darted to the left elbow and hit a jumper to give the Thunder a 104-101 advantage with 22.4 seconds left, and Denver couldn’t come up with a response.
Raymond Felton missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, and Oklahoma City closed it out at the foul line.
The Nuggets missed their last five shots from the field, after Danilo Gallinari’s jumper made it 101-100 with 3:06 remaining.
”I don’t think we’re going to beat this team with shots and execution at the end of the game,” Karl said. ”We’re going to beat them with stops and penetration and moving the ball and finding the open man.”
The Thunder had taken control down the stretch in each of the teams’ two meetings in the final eight days of the regular season, and tried to do it again.
Durant hit three jumpers and the free throw that followed Raymond Felton’s technical foul during a 12-4 run, and Westbrook’s jumper from the left wing put Oklahoma City ahead 98-90 midway through the fourth. But this time, Denver had a response.
Felton stripped Westbrook to set up a three-point play by J.R. Smith on a fast break, and Nene followed with another three-point play off of a left-handed jam through Durant’s foul. Nene dunked again with his right hand to finish the 9-0 answer and put Denver up 99-98.
Durant and Gallinari then traded baskets before
”The ball doesn’t get outside the cylinder,” Karl said. ”It’s not even outside the cylinder. So, how can’t you see that?
”But that’s part of the NBA.”
Gallinari scored 18 points, Felton had 12 and Denver had eight players score at least eight points.
Eric Maynor chipped in 12 points for Oklahoma City, which had no one else score more than five with Durant and Westbrook leading the way.
”That’s why they get paid the big bucks,” Perkins said. ”They stepped up big tonight.”
Durant, the NBA scoring champion the past two seasons, didn’t score more than 32 in any game last season. Westbrook never got more than 27.
But together, they were 25 for 45 from the field and provided all but 13 baskets for the Thunder.
”We have to limit one of them,” Martin said. ”They can’t go for 30 or 40. I think our concepts of paying attention to everyone else was great.
”Everything we needed to do, we did – except for limit Durant and Westbrook.”
The Nuggets hit their first seven shots, and 10 of their first 12, to charge ahead 23-10 in the first 7 minutes. Nene had 10 quick points, including two dunks. After the first, he chirped at Kendrick Perkins under the basket. The second time, Perkins had words for Durant, who didn’t get in Nene’s way.
All that kept the Thunder in the game was a hefty advantage at the foul line. They scored half their 24 first-quarter points on free throws, while Denver missed its only attempt.
Durant and Westbrook scored the final seven points of the first half, with Westbrook swiping the ball away from a double-teamed Felton and zooming downcourt for a two-handed slam to get Oklahoma City within 60-59 at halftime.
Westbrook hit a 3-pointer and jumper to give the Thunder their first lead at 64-62 early in the third quarter, and neither team led by more than three in the period until the very end. Durant used a crossover move to get away from Wilson Chandler and hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, then set up Maynor’s 3 from the opposite side to make it 86-82 Thunder heading into the fourth.
NOTES: Nene was out for 7 1/2 minutes after suffering a right knee contusion while bumping into Perkins in the opening minute of the second half. … Oklahoma City’s starting frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Perkins had no points in the first half. … The Thunder franchise’s last win in its first-round playoff opener was in 1998 against Minnesota. Oklahoma City lost Game 1 to the Los Angeles Lakers last year, and Seattle lost its first game in the 2005, 2002 and 2000 playoffs.