TULSA — Kevin Durant showed tonight why the NBA world says he’ll someday be great.
He simply took over down the stretch, scoring 18 of the team’s final 25 points and had 20 of his 26 in the fourth quarter.
But he was the complete package tonight, playing even more impressively on the defensive end and finishing with five rebounds, four assists, four steals, three blocks and only two turnovers in only 33 minutes.
He blocked two shots in the final minute that secured the game.
“That’s one thing that coach wanted me to do, he pulled me to the side and told me I’ve got to be big on both ends,” Durant said. “That’s what I tried to do with the help of my teammates. It was good to see everything clicking tonight for us.”
Seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady said Monday night was a sign of growth from Durant. With the Rockets throwing much shorter defenders at him in D.J. Strawberry and Von Wafer, Durant went to the basket, used his post-up game more and got to the free throw line more often, converting 10 of 11 from the foul line.
“He didn’t settle,” McGrady said. “He took what was there…It’s his second year. He’s growing and he’s going to get better, I’m sure. He’s going to be around for a long time.”
Durant’s teammates talked about needing nights like tonight out of him.
“He helps our team out,” said Chris Wilcox. “When he gets going like that he definitely helps everyone else out on the court. They can’t double in the post and they have to play him straight up so he opens up the court.”
For the first time this preseason, coach P.J. Carlesimo was pleased with individuals. He specifically pointed to Nick Collison (21 points, four rebounds), Johan Petro (12 points, seven rebounds), Wilcox (13 points, 14 rebounds), Earl Watson (eight points, seven assists) and Desmond Mason1(16 points, three rebounds).
“We’ve not had a lot of guys to brag about after games because they can play better,” Carlesimo said. “As a team we’ve been trying but we haven’t stepped up as many times individually. Tonight, about six or seven individuals stepped up so we’ve got a lot of people to talk about.”
The other thing that’s starting to stand out about this team is its resiliency. In all four games the Thunder has trailed early and battled back late. They trailed by 13 early against Minnesota before losing by only six. They trailed by 19 to Sacramento early in the third before pulling within one with six minutes remaining only to lose by nine. Against Golden State they trailed by 20 before pulling within eight at the end of the third before losing by 22. And tonight they battled back from an 11-point deficit.
“We played hard. We’re going to come back,” Carlesimo said. “I don’t think we’ll not come back. We’re not going to go away. We have too many guys that compete to do that.”
A few notes…..
* P.J. said he plans on playing John Lucas Tuesday against the Clippers.
* Jeff Green is a maybe with his sprained ankle. He said it’s a minor sprain and that it’s not that bad, saying he expects to be fully recovered by the middle of the week. But when I asked him if he expects to play Tuesday he said, “Nah. I don’t want to rush back too soon. It’s just preseason. If it was the regular season, probably. But I want to make sure it’s healed up 100 percent before I step out on the court.”
* D.J. White underwent successful surgery today to repair a benign growth in his jaw. He is expected to miss four to six months.
* In other injury news, because it was a very scary night for the Thunder, Durant is fine after rolling his left ankle in the fourth quarter…Damien Wilkins had a stinger to his left eye when he ran into Brent Barry but he was fine after the game…Barry almost took out Russell Westbrook with an inadvertent elbow as he was going up for a shot but Westbrook is fine as well….And Chris Wilcox was kneed in the back of his leg midway through the game but aside from a little soreness and discomfort said he’s OK.
* After a solid preseason debut, Russell Westbrook’s struggles continued tonight. He missed 7 of 8 shots and finished with five points, three rebounds and three assists. He only had two turnovers tonight, a preseason low, but Aaron Brooks handed him his lunch. Brooks scored 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting in only 24 minutes. Brooks joined Sacramento’s Bobby Brown and Golden State’s DeMarcus Nelson as guards who have torched the Thunder in the past three games. The education continues for the rookie.
“It’s his rookie year. Things are going a little bit fast for him,” said Brooks. “He’s got to make adjustments. It’s some good point guards in this league. But I think he’ll be fine…Rookies are going to take their lumps. That’s just how it is. It’s only a few rookies that come in and are just superstars. He’s going to take some lumps and it’s going to be a growing year for him, but he’s a great player. He’s going to be just fine.”
* The Thunder also made its free throws tonight, connecting on 29 of 33 (87.9 percent). The team shot a season high 48.2 percent from the field and committed a preseason low 11 turnovers.
“We just got to come with the mindset tomorrow night that we got to come in and play hard no matter what,” Durant said. “We have to get something out of these games. We can’t have setbacks like we had in Golden State. We just got to come to play, and everybody came to play tonight.”