EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With little left to cheer in New Jersey’s lost season, Nets fans set their sights on Kevin Durant on Monday night, showing the third-year Thunder forward the star treatment in Oklahoma City’s 105-89 win at IZOD Center.
Many of the still festive 15,335 in the Meadowlands showered Durant with applause after each of his game-high 40 points.
One 20-something female fan marveled at the 23 points displayed on the end zone stat monitor next to No. 35 as she returned to her seat from the Courtside Club early in the third quarter. A Nets employee, during a timeout with 3:40 remaining in the fourth and Durant stuck on 38 points, said to another, “I want to see him get 40.”
A media member seated on press row even had Durant on his fantasy team, making certain to check his roto-league squad and the player he picked fourth overall — ahead of Dwyane Wade.
“That was a little fun,” Durant said of the crowd’s reaction to his exploits. “I didn’t expect that at all.”
Durant, though, enjoyed playing crowd-pleaser. His steal and breakaway one-handed dunk with 1:36 remaining put him at the 40-point plateau, tying his season high. But it was his baseline drive and reverse slam with 6:01 left to play that brought the crowd to its feet, some of them gasping in awe but most of them gathering their things to head home.
Durant made 15 of 22 shots in 40 minutes to go with five rebounds and two assists. His 11-foot floater to beat the halftime buzzer gave the Thunder a six-point lead at the break and one more of his many highlights on this night.
And yet, for as tantalizing as Durant’s big plays were, it was a 5½-minute stretch to end the third period that proved Durant deserves his growing star status.
With 5:41 left in the quarter, Nets guard Terrance Williams found Courtney Lee in the corner for a 3-pointer that put the home team up 72-70, its first lead since 4:01 to play in the second period. Durant then scored or assisted on 11 of the Thunder’s final 14 points in the period.
He baited Williams into fouling him while attempting a 3-pointer from the top of the arc and made all three free throws. He directed Nenad Krstic to the right elbow, where he set him up for a 20-footer. He drained two more freebies, then a layup. Durant then ended the run by feeding Krstic for another jumper, this time a 14-footer from the right baseline.
The Thunder closed the period on a 14-4 run to take an 84-76 lead into the final frame. New Jersey never got closer than six.
“We struggled a little bit early, turning the ball over a lot. But he was able to step up and make enough plays to keep us right there going into the half,” said Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison. “And in the third quarter, he just took the game over.”
Durant became the latest star to swat away the Nets during their forgettable season. New Jersey’s league-worst record fell to 2-29 despite a career-high tying 29 points from Yi Jianlian. Oklahoma City held New Jersey to 13 points in the final period and 39.5 percent shooting in the second half after the Nets shot 51.4 percent in the first 24 minutes.
The Thunder, meanwhile, moved to 16-14, winning three straight for the first time this season. It was also OKC’s eighth road win, tying last year’s total for road victories.
“We have a long way to go,” Durant said. “We still have a lot of slip-ups in games but we’re getting better and hopefully we peak at the right time.”