As the score tightened, Kevin Durant stayed loose.
Sitting in his warm-ups on Oklahoma City’s bench, Durant knew he might be called upon again. And when he was, the NBA’s leading scorer closed out Cleveland.
“My mind’s always on the game so I didn’t space out,” he said. “I was instantly ready.”
Durant scored 35 points, finding his shooting touch after a rough start, and made five free throws in the final minute to shut down a furious, fourth-quarter comeback and give the Thunder their 50th win, 102-95 over the injury-riddled Cavaliers on Thursday night.
Durant missed five of his first six shots, but finally got it going. He has scored 25 or more in 33 straight games — the league’s longest streak since Michael Jordan did it 40 consecutive times (1986-87).
With the win, the Thunder, who let a 24-point lead dwindle to five in the fourth, moved within 1 1/2 games of San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City played without point guard Russell Westbrook, who rested his surgically repaired knee.
Dion Waiters scored 30 and Spencer Hawes 20 for the Cavs, who trailed 95-71 with 6:34 left before going on a 21-2 run to pull within 97-92. Durant, though, who had re-entered with 3:34 to go, made his free throws to end Cleveland’s rally.
When he took a seat after three quarters, Durant figured his night was done.
“But that can happen in this league,” Durant said. “Guys have pride and Cleveland plays extremely hard, so those guys made it a game late and we had to close it out.”
Cleveland played without injured star guard Kyrie Irving (strained biceps) and forward Luol Deng (sprained ankle).
Durant’s performance came two nights after LeBron James dropped 43 points on Cleveland, which lost its season-high fourth straight at home and has seen its playoff chances disappear.
Durant added 11 rebounds and six assists, his biggest to Serge Ibaka for a dunk with 1:54 left after the Cavs had closed within eight.
With the Thunder ahead by 17 entering the fourth, Durant grabbed a seat after scoring 30 in 32 minutes. Oklahoma City’s reserves were having their way with the Cavs, but Cleveland quickly reeled off 11 in a row, forcing Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks to bring Durant back.
Waiters’ steal and layup got Cleveland within five, but the Thunder made sure the ball went to Durant, who then put it away at the line. But not before the Thunder had their nerves frayed.
“You hate to talk about the last few minutes,” Brooks said. “So I’m not going to.”
Reggie Jackson started for Westbrook and added 13 points. Derek Fisher had 12 and Jeremy Lamb 10.
Durant had a very un-Durant-like start.
He started 1-of-6 from the field and grew more and more agitated with every missed shot. Late in the first quarter, Durant, who had complained to the officials about not getting a call on a drive, grabbed an offensive rebound, dunked in frustration and got called for a technical.
“I just don’t care if I miss,” Durant said. “I had it in my mind that I was going to start the game off 1 for 10. That’s how quickly it can change, man. I thought I might be in for a tough shooting night, but I always stay aggressive.”
With Deng, Cleveland’s top wing defender, out and down to just nine dressed players, Cavs coach Mike Brown knew his team would struggle to handle the multifaceted Durant. And when Alonzo Gee picked up his second personal foul less than two minutes into the game, Brown brought in pesky guard Matthew Dellavedova to guard the league’s leading scorer.
Dellavedova, generously listed at 6-foot-4, did all he could to pester Durant and it worked — for a while.
“He didn’t get under my skin,” Durant said. “He plays hard, you can respect a player like that but I didn’t pay him any attention”
Brown was proud of the job Dellavedova did on Durant.
“One thing Delly’s going to do for sure is fight,” Brown said. “He’s going to get up in your chest and he’s going to bother you, he’s going to show his hands so he’s not going to foul you. He makes you work for points.”
NOTES: Brooks has been impressed with Caron Butler, who has played in eight games since signing with Oklahoma City on March 1. Scott said Butler is tough, experienced and fearless. “He can make shots and he’s not afraid to take shots,” Brooks said. “We like that.” ... OKC center Kendrick Perkins (left groin strain) missed his 12th consecutive game and G Thabo Sefolosha (left calf strain) sat out his ninth straight. ... Brown boycotted filling out an NCAA bracket because Butler, where his son Elijah plays, didn’t make the field. “It’s my own protest,” Brown joked. “I’m loyal.” ... Dellavedova had 11 points and 10 assists.
As the score tightened, Kevin Durant stayed loose.
Majors open regional with Cherry Creek
The Enid Majors (36-12) enter the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament today at David Allen Memorial Ballpark coming off one of their best seasons in the past few years. Now, the pressure is on as they face Cherry Creek, Colo.,at 8:15 tonight.
Ballpark to observe Military Appreciation Night
David Allen Memorial Ballpark hosts Military Appreciation Night tonight during the 6 and 8:15 games of the Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament.
Rory McIlroy: There's a new tiger in town
His father introduced him to the game when he was small, putting a golf club in his hand when he was barely past the toddler stage.
He fell in love with it and worked hard, improving steadily. He became a terrific junior player and quickly improved.
He was touted as the next big thing and didn’t disappoint.
Now, at the tender age of 25, he is a multiple major champion.
Tiger Woods? Yes, once upon a tee time. But now those words are being spoken about Rory McIlroy.
Gundy has big plans for Hill
The picture became a little clearer Monday of how Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year Tyreek Hill will be utilized in the Oklahoma State offense.
And the picture is rather wide.
Briles: Baylor swinging for the fences
Coach Art Briles and Baylor arrived at Big 12 football media days as defending champions for the first time.
Briles has a slightly different take on the Bears’ newfound standing.
- Radio-TV for 7-22-14
Big 12 commissioner says 'change is coming' in college sports
That was the theme of Monday's state of the conference speech by Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby on the first day of Big 12 Football Media Days.
- Worrell takes 8th at Firekeeper Classic
Fowler happy with runner-up finish
For ex-Oklahoma State star Rickie Fowler, this is getting downright familiar.
He’s not complaining.
For the second time this summer, Fowler played in the final group of a major championship, failed to overcome a big deficit, and settled for the runner-up spot.
Big 12 Media Days start today
The new-look Big 12 is ready for some football.
OK, the conference’s logo is what’s new this year. There are no changes in the makeup or format of the 10-team league, the only power conference with a round-robin schedule that determines a champion without an extra game.
- More Sports Headlines
- Majors open regional with Cherry Creek