Thunder beat Clippers 104-87 behind Durant’s 32
LOS ANGELES (AP) Kevin Durant first met Spencer Haywood three years ago during his rookie season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder were based in Seattle and in the throws of a 20-62 season. The former SuperSonics star told Durant to keep his head up because things would turn around.
On Friday night, Durant tied Haywood’s 1972-73 franchise mark by recording his 35th game of the season with 30 or more points in a 104-87 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The first-time All-Star finished with 32 points and nine rebounds.
Haywood’s legacy when he retired from the game was the 1971 Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA that players could leave college early for the NBA. Durant benefited from that landmark decision, leaving the Texas Longhorns after his freshman season to go into the draft and getting taken with the No. 2 overall pick.
“I know a lot about Spencer and what he’s done for this league. He paved the way for guys like myself, so it’s a great honor to be in company like that,” Durant said. “That’s pretty cool. He’s a great role model to kids and he helped me out when I was in Seattle.”
Durant, who has been playing leapfrog with LeBron James in their race for the NBA scoring title, came in trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star by one-tenth of a point per game. James had 40 against Detroit on Friday night.
Durant, trying to become the first player in the 43-year history of the Seattle/Oklahoma City franchise to win a league scoring crown, has had at least 25 points in 33 of his last 35 games.
The only exceptions were his 22-point effort at San Antonio on Feb. 24 and Wednesday’s 19-point showing against the Nuggets, when he left the game with 4:26 remaining and the Thunder trailing by 23 in their most lopsided loss of the season.
Russell Westbrook had 15 points and nine assists, helping the Thunder record their 18th road victory – three more than their combined total the previous two seasons.
“Russell was a big part of how we played tonight with his energy and effort,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He didn’t feel like he had a good game offensively, with the (seven) turnovers, but defensively he was good and he really inspired our team from the opening jump by playing good defense on Baron Davis.”
Chris Kaman had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who shot just 37.2 percent from the field. None of them had more than one field goal during the first 16 minutes except for reserve forward Craig Smith, who made six of his first seven shots after missing two games with a left biceps strain. Smith finished 7 for 11 with 19 points in a foul-plagued 22 minutes.
“The Thunder got after it. They got to loose balls and they forced some turnovers, which translated into transition baskets,” Smith said. “Sometimes, we couldn’t get stops. If we don’t assert ourselves on the defensive end and control our turnovers, we’re going to be in for a long night.”
Trailing by 11 early in the third quarter, the Clippers narrowed the gap to 68-64 on Rasual Butler’s 3-pointer with 4:07 left in the period. But that was as close as they got, as the Thunder opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 86-69.
Rookie James Harden, who had 17 points off the bench, set up an alley-oop dunk by Durant on a fast break with 6 minutes to play after rookie Serge Ibaka blocked a layup by Kaman at the other end.
“We did a great job of locking in and getting focused,” Durant said. “It was an overall effort from everyone, and we really helped each other out. It was a good team win. We’ve worked hard, and we continue to get better.”
After shooting a season-worst 32.5 percent and committing 23 turnovers Wednesday night in a 119-90 loss at Denver, Oklahoma City opened the game with an 18-6 run and led 53-46 at halftime. The Clippers were 0 for 8 from 3-point range until Butler connected with 6:26 left in the third quarter to trim Oklahoma City’s lead to 61-57.
“Our defense got us this far. That’s our focus,” Harden said. “Tonight we wanted to come out with energy and intensity and just stay focused on the defensive end.”
NOTES: Durant is averaging 28.7 points in 10 career games against the Clippers, compared with 24.5 in 205 games against the rest of the league. He had 40 points in a 101-93 home loss to the Clippers on Nov. 15, and 46 in a 107-104 road loss on Jan. 23, 2009. … Oklahoma City, which had only 18 points in the paint in the loss to Denver, matched that total on Harden’s layup with 3 minutes left in the first half. The Thunder were still outscored 38-36 in that category by the Clippers. … Westbrook’s alma matter, Leuzinger High in Lawndale, retired his uniform number Thursday night in a ceremony that was attended by his Thunder teammates.
Updated March 6, 2010