By Randy Renner
Once again in his superstar career Kevin Durant did something last night he'd always dreamed about as a kid...he hit what turned out to be the game winning shot in OKC's thrilling 100-99 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
But KD did more than just that, a couple seconds after hitting that big shot he came off the man he was guarding in the corner to help out on Chris Paul who was going up for a potential game winner of his own and Durant used his 7-6 wingspan to get a hand on Paul's shot and knock it off course to secure the Thunder's 12th win in their last 16 games.
"I feel like my defense has grown," Durant said. "Since my first year, I never was a liability on that end. I just had to learn the skills. So I felt like I could always guard every position if I was locked in and being aggressive, and using my length to my advantage."
So what was more satisfying to the 4-time NBA scoring champ? Hitting his own shot to put his team in front or blocking Paul's to make sure the Thunder finished on the high side?
"As a kid, I dreamed about hitting the game-winner," Durant said. "No doubt, the block was good for our team. But as a kid, I wanted to hit the game-winner all the time. So I'll take the game-winner over the block."
The Thunder will happily take both and head on down the road.
Durant struggled at times with his shot, going just 10-for-24 overall and 1-for-7 on threes but he still came close to a triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He also blocked another shot in addition to that last second one on Paul and was credited with a couple of steals.
His superstar teammate, Russell Westbrook also struggled some, going 11-for-24 but Westbrook got to the free throw line 11 times making nine of those shots to finish with a game-high 33 points. He also pulled down five rebounds, dished out seven assists and had three steals.
Power forward Serge Ibaka was solid with 17 points and eight rebounds and he and center Steven Adams played aggressive defense on Clipper stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin, the former OU star, scored 15 points on just 7-for-21 shooting and Jordan was held to eight points and 10 rebounds.
But it was Durant who took care of things at the end for OKC with both his game winner and then his game saver moments later.
“We stayed together, we hung in there and knew we were going to have to battle on the road,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “We came up and did some things that I would consider winning plays that we needed to make.”
The Thunder trailed by as many as 10 and were down 83-75 early in the fourth quarter before the Thunder put on a scoring spurt to tie the game at 93-all with 3:13 to play. It was back-and-forth after that until the heroics in the last seconds.
After a Clippers turnover and a subsequent foul by J.J. Redick following a Westbrook steal, Dion Waiters' inbounds pass for Westbrook went off his fingers and was intercepted by Paul, who quickly went in for a layup that put the Clippers ahead 99-98.
But Durant followed with his clutch shot from 20-feet out on the right wing before making his game-saving defensive play on Paul at the other end.
"I always felt like I was a smart player, but the coaches challenged me at the start of the year to just step it up to another level at the defensive end," Durant said.
“We did a good job of closing this game out,” Westbrook said. “It’s a great feeling when you know that you fought and put yourself in position to win the game. When you get the opportunity to finish a game like that, as a team and as a unit, you feel good about it.”
It's an especially good feeling for the Thunder considering they blew late leads on the road at Atlanta, Miami and then Cleveland just last week. Last night everything finally broke the Thunder's way.
"We believe in each other," Durant said. "Russ hit big shots and everybody was excited for him. Serge hit big shots and everybody was excited for him. And when my number was called, you saw the guys hop off the bench when I made the shot. And that's all you want, that support from your teammates."
The Thunder will practice today at UCLA then take on the Lakers Wednesday night in a rematch of Saturday's blowout before coming home to host the Chicago Bulls on Christmas afternoon.