Durant's 43 lead Thunder past Hornets
Monty Williams has the New Orleans Hornets playing one of the stingiest brands of defense in the NBA. And despite what he thought was strong resistance from his team, Kevin Durant still let loose with his league-best fifth 40-point outing of the season.
Durant continued his scoring tear with 43 points and 10 rebounds, led a key fourth-quarter run and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Hornets 104-93 on Wednesday night. It was the third time Durant eclipsed 40 points in the past four games.
''That's why he's probably MVP of the league right now. You're putting a string of games together like that, you put yourself in a different class,'' said Williams, whose Hornets have the league's No. 2 scoring defense.
''He made one shot tonight, he was standing where I was. When you're playing with that kind of confidence ... he's not just a special player, he's becoming a standard for that position.''
David West had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Chris Paul scored 15 points for New Orleans, which has lost three of four following a 10-game winning streak.
The win put Oklahoma City a half-game ahead of the Hornets for fourth place in the Western Conference and clinched the season series for the Thunder. The Hornets pulled out a 91-89 win against Oklahoma City just nine days earlier in New Orleans, with Paul coming up with a steal in the final 15 seconds that led to West's winning basket.
This time, Durant ensured there would be no late-game meltdown by the Thunder by scoring eight points during a 10-2 run that extended a six-point lead and put the game away.
The league's scoring leader hit two free throws, a jumper and a three-pointer from the right wing, and then a driving foul-line jumper that made it 98-84 with 5:44 to play.
''Durant hit some shots that there's no defense for,'' Williams said. ''Some of that stuff is the same thing Chris does, the same thing David does, and you can't overcome that.
''What I didn't like was I thought a couple of our guys put their heads down tonight and let that get to them, and I thought some of our bench guys didn't compete.''
Durant scored 47 points at Minnesota and then 40 against Washington in back-to-back victories last week that both went past regulation, and he shot 14 for 19 from the field in his latest scoring outburst.
''Amazing,'' Jeff Green said. ''He's been scoring the ball with ease, getting any kind of shot he wants. He's been playing well, and hopefully it continues.''
Green added 12 points and Serge Ibaka had eight points, 12 rebounds and six blocks as the Thunder bounced back from a loss to Miami on Sunday. Oklahoma City, which hasn't lost back-to-back home games since December 2009, held New Orleans to 38 points in the second half.
''I'd rather have two quarters of good defense than nothing at all,'' Durant said. ''We have to figure out how to start the game out right and finish it out right. We've got one half going. Now we need to get the other half.''
The Thunder had a string of 11 straight sellouts snapped, but still drew 17,849 fans while crews were using construction equipment and dump trucks to clean snow off downtown streets after a rare blizzard dropped a foot of snow in some areas around the city.
''I think that snowstorm had us back on our heels, a little lackadaisical, but we got it together in the second half,'' Green said.
New Orleans' David Andersen scored a season-high 13 points while helping to fill in for the injured Emeka Okafor (left oblique strain). The Hornets also lost Trevor Ariza to a sprained right ankle in the third quarter when he came down on Green's foot after a shot attempt in the lane.
''He turned it bad,'' Williams said. ''I didn't see it, but I know he turned it. The prognosis, I'm not real clear on it. How long he's going to be out, we'll see.''
Paul was carried off the floor by two trainers, then limped to the locker room after rolling his left ankle on the top of Ibaka's right shoe as he drove to the basket midway through the first quarter, but he was able to come back after missing about 11 minutes of game action.
In the meantime, the Hornets fell behind by seven and then climbed out of the hole as Andersen — who hadn't scored more than nine points all season — scored 10 of New Orleans' first 14 points of the second quarter.
Oklahoma City got out of its own seven-point hole by outscoring New Orleans 32-17 in the third. Durant capped a personal 6-0 run by connecting on a fallaway jumper along the right baseline with 0.2 seconds left in the third quarter to put the Thunder up 81-72.
Daequan Cook stretched the lead to 12 by opening the fourth with a three-pointer from the right wing after Nick Collison had saved the ball in the opposite corner of the court.
Willie Green and Andersen hit three-pointers on back-to-back trips to get the Hornets within six, and the Hornets were back within 88-82 after Quincy Pondexter's jumper on the left baseline, before Durant put it away.
''As a whole, I didn't think we had that nitty-gritty, go-after-it kind of game tonight,'' Williams said. ''And we can't play unless we're playing that way.''
NOTES: Thunder SG Thabo Sefolosha missed his third straight game with a left knee sprain. C Nenad Krstic suffered a right foot sprain in the third quarter, and coach Scott Brooks said he'd be re-evaluated Thursday. ... New Orleans' team bus got caught in the snow after making it to Oklahoma City early Wednesday, and Ariza and Paul both hit coach Monty Williams with snowballs while the bus was being freed. ''It was a tough situation, but I thought we turned it into a fun one,'' Williams said. ... Oklahoma City recalled rookie C Cole Aldrich from the NBA developmental league before the game, but he didn't play.