As the NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant is the kind of decoy that’s hard to ignore.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder used him to perfection to beat the Golden State Warriors 115-114 in overtime Tuesday night.
Durant took his place on the right side of the lane and headed toward the free-throw line as though he was getting ready to receive a pass, just as fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook took off on a drive to the basket.
The result: a foul against Stephen Curry with 11.4 seconds left, leading to Westbrook’s game-winning free throw.
”Russell’s a big-time scorer and we wanted to get him something driving to the basket, which is his strength. We knew they were going to call a foul if he drives so hard and tried to score,” Durant said. ”It was good for either person. I could have posted up at the free-throw line and tried to get a shot or Russell could have took it to the rim.”
Durant finished with 39 points after scoring Oklahoma City’s first eight points in overtime. It was his highest total since scoring 43 against New Orleans on Feb. 2.
”We did everything we could to guard two hot players – two very, very good players in Westbrook and Durant, of course,” Warriors coach Keith Smart said.
”I thought our guys did a great job and almost, almost had a chance to pull this thing off.”
Westbrook missed his first free throw, but made the second to put the Thunder on top.
Monta Ellis’ jumper from the top of the key was wide right at the final buzzer. He finished with 20 points and 11 assists but shot just 9 for 30, missing 12 in a row at one point.
”Sometimes good players may struggle the whole game and they have an ability to lock in late,” Smart said. ”We thought we got the right matchup.”
Curry led Golden State with 35 points, and David Lee had 24 points and 15 rebounds.
Serge Ibaka added 19 points and Kendrick Perkins had 13 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which started out with a win in its first of four back-to-back sets in the final 15 days of the season. But not without a little extra work.
The Warriors mounted two second-half rallies, wiping away a 14-point deficit in the third quarter to take the lead and then falling behind by 10 in the fourth before a final flurry.
Golden State deployed a matchup 2-3 zone that Smart described as ”almost a box and one” and held Oklahoma City without a basket for more than 6 minutes to rally back from a 69-55 deficit in the third. Curry provided the final five points in a 16-2 run with a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup that put Golden State up 74-73.
Durant had a two-handed, alley-oop dunk and James Harden also dunked twice in an 8-0 run for the Thunder, and Ibaka’s layup off a lob from Westbrook made it 100-90 with 3:49 left in regulation.
This time, the Warriors rallied with a quick burst of offense.
After Reggie Williams’ 3-pointer from the right wing with 11.1 seconds remaining, Ellis stole Daequan Cook’s inbounds pass and stepped behind the line for another 3 from the left corner to tie it with 6.9 seconds to go.
Durant, who took the blame for failing to come back and receive Cook’s inbounds pass, missed a fallaway jumper on the right baseline at the end of regulation.
Coach Scott Brooks then reminded his players of their success so far this season beyond regulation, and they went out to become just the fifth team in NBA history to win eight overtime games in a season. The record is nine by Sacramento in 2000.
”It is not the way we wanted to execute down the stretch, but we did get the win and I give our guys credit for staying together and hanging in there,” Brooks said.
The Thunder missed seven straight shots and were down 111-109 before Durant used his ”rip” move – raking the ball through a defender’s outstretched arm – to draw a three-shot foul. He hit all three to put Oklahoma City ahead and then answered Ellis’ 3-pointer with a jumper from the left wing to tie it up at 114.
Ellis missed from the top of the key on the Warriors’ last two possessions.
”If you go back and look at last shots I have taken this season, you will notice that I took all of them the same way, even the one tonight,” Ellis said. ”It just did not go down.”
Smart said he hopes NBA coaches will revisit the rules on the ”rip” move in the offseason.
”That shouldn’t be a call because defensive players, you’re trying to tell your guys to get up on a good player,” Smart said. ”If the player’s going to bait you into a foul – and I understand it’s a rule, so there’s nothing we can do about it – but … who has the right to the space? We’ve got to come to a conclusion.”
Durant said he’s aware there’s a debate over the fairness of the play, but right now he’s just playing according to the current rules.
”They’ve said it’s a legal play, so I’m going to keep doing it until they tell me I can’t,” Durant said. ”That’s when I’ll stop.”
Notes: Cook and Curry collided with an arena worker on the sideline in the second quarter, spilling a platter of drinks onto Durant’s mother and brother. … Thunder backup Nick Collison sat out with a sprained left ankle. Coach Scott Brooks said he’s day to day and his status for Wednesday night at Phoenix is uncertain. … Golden State guard Acie Law wasn’t with the team while getting further evaluations on his injured right wrist. … Nate Robinson was activated for Oklahoma City for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on March 4 but did not play.