Durant Heats Up In The Frozen North To Save The Day For Thunder
By Randy Renner
Yet another fourth quarter collapse had the Thunder on the ropes in Minnesota last night then Kevin Durant decided enough was enough.
He scored 12 points in the last three minutes to preserve what turned out to be a 101-96 Thunder win. Durant shouldn’t have had to put on a shooting show in the fourth quarter, he shouldn’t have had to play at all but when an OKC 18 point lead melted all the way down to just three points he had to get his game going, a game that hadn’t been particularly good up until then.
"It felt like I need to get it going in the first three quarters," said Durant, who was 7-for-21 through three periods. "I can't just come out and try to save the game and make shots in the fourth. I've got to get it going earlier. I've got to make shots, man. That's what it's about."
It’s also about making the other guys miss some shots, which the Thunder did a pretty good job of in the first 36 minutes holding the T-Wolves to just 66 points on 41.3 percent shooting.
Going into the fourth quarter it seemed like Oklahoma City had things under control leading 80-66.
But as has happened far to often this season the Thunder seemed to relax on defense, at times appearing to not be interested in putting up even token resistance. Combine that with some terrible shot selection on offense (0-for-5 on threes, most taken early in the shot clock) and you have the recipe for a rally.
The Timberwolves even went nuts from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, making almost as many threes (3) in those 12 minutes than they’ve been averaging in an entire game over their previous 11 contests (3.7).
Two of those long balls splashed down during a sequence late in the fourth quarter to get Minnesota to within three and making things shaky as the ground back home in central Oklahoma. Going into last night’s game the Thunder were just 9-8 in games decided by six points or less. That eighth loss had come just the game before in Portland and number nine was staring right at Durant and his teammates.
And that’s when KD got hot, hitting consecutive shots from 22, 20 and 17 feet while also dropping in four free throws. The Thunder had just enough breathing room to make good their escape.
Russell Westbrook struggled in the fourth quarter but finished the game again in triple-double territory with 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. OKC got a nice game from backup center Enes Kanter coming off the bench for 18 points but no one else was in double figures.
Steven Adams didn’t miss a shot but he only took three. Serge Ibaka was 3-for-8, Dion Waiters was 2-for-8, Cam Payne was 2-for-7 and Andre Roberson 2-for-8.
Going up against a team that had lost 10 of their last 11 and had been averaging only 90 points a game while allowing 108 during that stretch the Thunder should have been able to play well enough to let the starters to sit on the bench in the fourth quarter and get a head start on some rest before getting back at it at home tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
But this season the Thunder have struggled to close teams out and that’s what’s separating them from San Antonio and Golden State, the two teams ahead of them in the Western Conference.
That trend shows no sign of ending as we come close to the halfway point of the Thunder’s most important season.