OKLAHOMA CITY – With one quarter to go, the first 50-point game of Kevin Durant’s career seemed within his grasp. That he chose not to force the issue meant he didn’t reach that personal goal – but that decision did help the Oklahoma City Thunder win.
Durant, the NBA’s scoring leader, had a season-high 44 points, including 21 in the third quarter, and the Thunder beat the Denver Nuggets 114-106 on Saturday night in the first Christmas Day game in the Thunder’s three-season tenure in Oklahoma City.
Durant raised his average to 28.1 points per game and topped his previous season high of 34, blew past the latter by the five-minute mark of the third quarter en route to his first 40-point game of the season – after having eight of them last season. He finished 14 of 20 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“He was on fire,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He wasn’t even hitting the rim.”
With 40 points after three quarters, Durant admitted he was thinking not just of breaking his career high of 47, set Feb. 17, 2009 against New Orleans, but of reaching the 50-point mark.
The Nuggets made sure that didn’t happen, routinely throwing two and three defenders at Durant during the fourth quarter. He didn’t score in the quarter until the final 2 minutes, but with the Nuggets focused on him, his teammates found open shots and lanes to the basket and Durant helped make sure the ball found its way to them.
“I just didn’t want to force anything or mess up the flow of the game,” Durant said.
Denver played for the second straight game without star Carmelo Anthony following his sister’s death.