As he started his jump shot, rising into a picturesque fadeaway from the right wing with 1.5 seconds remaining, Kevin Durant lost all sense of his surroundings. His defender didn’t matter, and he no longer could hear the commotion coming from a sold out crowd of 18,203 inside Oklahoma City Arena.
“Once I let it go,” Durant said, “it felt like everybody went silent.”
It took a while for Durant to come to.
But when he did, he came back to a chorus of cheers celebrating his first buzzer-beating, game-winner in a Thunder uniform — a 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Danilo Gallinari that lifted Oklahoma City to a 101-98 win over New York.
“That’s one of the all-time best feelings I’ve had in this league,” said Durant, whose calm and cool walk off following the play perfectly suited one of his many nicknames, “Baby Ice.”
It’s been a long road for Durant in last-second situations. He’s misfired on so many occasions that questions emerged about his ability to make plays in the clutch. In a one-point loss at Houston on Nov. 28, Durant clanged a potential game-winning 20-foot jumper and voiced frustration over yet another missed opportunity.
This time, Durant was money.
And as his shot swished through the net, fans lingered, seemingly not wanting to head home as Kool & The Gang’s classic, “Celebration,” blared over the PA system.
Durant, whose only other buzzer-beating game winner came at Atlanta early in his rookie season, said he was relieved to finally see another last-second shot go down.
“I was never going to get down on myself,” Durant said. “I just had to keep working. I knew my time was going to come.”
Durant needed Saturday’s big shot in more ways than one.
In the previous two games, Durant connected on just 14 of 42 shots, a 33.3 percent clip. And he struggled throughout the Knicks game. Before his game-winner, Durant was just nine of 24 from the field and had made only two of seven 3-pointers.
“Most players would say, ‘Man, I’m having a tough night. I don’t want to take the last shot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
But Durant told Brooks in the huddle with 6.5 seconds remaining that he wanted to be the go-to guy.
“He’s earned that opportunity to take that last shot,” said Brooks.
It lifted the Thunder to 28-15 and prevented the team’s first three-game losing streak.
“If he would have missed that shot, that would have been a shot I would have been happy with moving on to overtime,” Brooks said.
Instead, everyone — especially Durant — can finally delight in the feeling of a superstar making a super play.