Durant: Rookie Payne "Saved Us"

By Randy Renner

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant dramatically summed up the play of rookie point guard Cameron Payne after Tuesday's 131-123 Thunder escape from the Milwaukee Bucks.

"He saved us tonight."

OKC getting to the free throw line 40 times and hitting 37 of them probably played more of a role in saving the Thunder but KD's point is well taken.

The rookie not only brought a spark of energy, he brought a pretty impressive game scoring 16 points in a little less than 16 minutes of 5-for-6 shooting. He also had three rebounds, three assists and a steal.

"He definitely sparked us, he got the bench all hyped up," center Steven Adams told reporters after the game.

"He's aggressive, he's never nervous," Durant said of the rookie from Murray State. "He's a natural point guard, been that way his whole life. I could tell when I first seen him play. He's looking his eyes are always looking up the court."

Payne has been used sparingly by head coach Billy Donovan this season but Sunday he played 12 minutes against Denver and looked good so Donovan decided to let Payne have all the backup point guard minutes against Milwaukee and Payne took full advantage.

He nailed a couple of threes, found Anthony Morrow on the wing for a three and Enes Kanter down low for a slam and showed off a nifty rainbow floater that was impossible for the Bucks to deal with.

"It's just God-gifted," Payne said of the shot, "Never worked on it, so thank God for that."

Donovan did tap the brakes a bit on all the excitement over Payne's play.

"I wanna caution everybody," he said. "It's just one game."

Yes and Payne still has a lot to learn about how the NBA game is played and he needs to get better on defense but he again showed last night he has some impressive natural skills that can't be taught.

Thunder Offense Gets An "A", Defense Flunks Again

It was another great night for OKC's offense, 131 points on 50.0 percent shooting, 21 assists, 37-for-40 at the free throw line and 56 points in the paint. OKC also had six players in double figures, three starters (Russell Westbrook 27, Durant 26 and Serge Ibaka 11) and three bench players (Kanter 23, Payne 16 and Morrow 10).

But oh my, that defense.

Milwaukee came in averaging 96.3 points on 45.5 percent shooting. The Bucks scored a season-high 123 points against the Thunder on 49.0 percent shooting overall at 62.5 percent (10-for-16) on threes.

OKC had trouble blocking out the Bucks, giving up a whopping 18 offensive rebounds which the Bucks converted into 19 points.

Donovan has been concerned about those issues lately but so far no fix has been found.

A Sunny New Year's Eve

Ever since the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder they've hosted a game on New Year's Eve as part of Oklahoma City's annual "Opening Night" festivities. Thursday evening the Phoenix Suns will be in town.

Tipoff set for 7:10 at The Peake.