Thunder rally to beat struggling Hornets
Kevin Durant doesn't mind taking a back seat when Russell Westbrook is taking over a game in crunch time.
Westbrook scored 12 of his 25 points during a decisive 14-0 run late in the fourth quarter and also had 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the New Orleans Hornets 95-89 on Monday night.
"This is the new Russell," Durant said. "He's just taking over games and controlling the games. That's what we need for us to win."
Westbrook scored six in a row to tie the game, then kept going with a driving layup and a 3-pointer that put the Thunder up 88-81 with 1:38 to play. After the 3-pointer, he mocked slamming guns down into holsters at his side.
"Sometimes when my teammates are down and not making shots, it's an opportunity for me to be able to step up and help us win the game," Westbrook said.
Westbrook has been the go-to guy down the stretch for Oklahoma City recently with Durant and Jeff Green struggling to knock down shots consistently. Over the past three games, Durant and Green are a combined 37-for-109 (34 percent) from the field.
Durant finished with 26 points, but 12 came from the free-throw line - including four in the final minute that helped clinch it. His biggest contribution in the decisive stretch was slowing down David West, who led New Orleans with 20 points but missed six straight shots as Oklahoma City pulled ahead.
"This game is all about wins. As a leader, you've got to do whatever it takes to win. I think that I did that tonight," Durant said. "That's a part of my growth as a player."
Chris Paul added 17 points, 14 assists and five steals as the Hornets lost for the fourth time in five games after an 11-1 start.
"I thought we competed our tails off tonight on the road in a tough back-to-back," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "The ball didn't go down. It happens in this league. If you hold a team like that to 95 points, you give yourself a chance."
Westbrook missed 10 of his first 15 shots and committed eight turnovers but did away with all those struggles in his final flurry. He made his final four attempts and didn't turn the ball over in the final 6 minutes as Oklahoma City wiped away an 81-75 deficit.
"He's an All-Star. He probably won't get the votes, unless somebody puts him in the game," Williams said. "That guy is playing at a level that you scout for him for about 10 or 15 minutes of your practice because his pick-and-roll, he's shooting the ball now, he gets to the free-throw line about 10 times a game.
"If you said that and just left the (identity) blank, you'd say that's an All-Star."
Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha added 13 points apiece for the Thunder, who bounced back from a one-point loss in Houston a night earlier.
Emeka Okafor had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli scored 10 each as New Orleans faded in the second half for a second straight night. The Hornets were outscored 55-34 in the second half of a 109-95 loss at San Antonio on Sunday.
This time, they took control in the third quarter but were unable to hold on.
After a 4-for-12 start, West hit three straight baskets to finish a 13-1 run that put New Orleans ahead 65-57 in the third quarter. The Thunder chipped away and got back within 76-75 when Durant's two-handed fast-break dunk turned into a three-point play.
West answered with a fadeaway jumper and Paul hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to push the Hornets' lead back to six, but Westbrook took over from there.
Durant, who was 7-for-22 from the field, said he pulled Westbrook aside and told him: "If you see an opening, just go."
"Whatever the game tells me to do, that's kind of what I do," Westbrook said.
Westbrook also had a season-high five steals to make up for matching his highest turnover total of the season.
"He had eight turnovers, but I thought it worked in his favor. He was aggressive the whole night," Williams said. "I felt like we put some resistance up early in the game, but your legs kind of leave you in the fourth quarter."
NOTES: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka was set to be ejected when he was called for a flagrant foul for hitting Paul with his elbows as he cleared space after a rebound with 2:52 left in the third quarter. Officials checked the replay, saw Ibaka initially missed Paul as he whirled before bumping him at the end of his follow-through, and reduced it to a technical foul. ... Former Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree sat courtside.