George Karl likes the mission he's accepted. The Nuggets coach is out to prove that you don't need superstars to win big in the NBA.
For much of Sunday night, Karl was building a case.
Then the old you-need-superstars theory rose up. Rose up big.
The amazing tale of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reached its zenith Sunday night as the Thunder bounced Karl's Nuggets 124-118 in overtime.
Durant's ascension to basketball royalty? Westbrook's rise to superstardom? Neither could be disputed after one of the wildest games in Oklahoma City's NBA history.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 91 points on 35 of 57 shooting. Durant totaled 51 points, his first golden scoring game as a pro. Cool Hand Russ had 40 points.
Here's what kind of night they had. Serge Ibaka had a monster triple double – 14 points, 15 rebounds, 11 blocked shots – and was relegated to third billing.
Here's what kind of night they had. Karl said “to have a great player take a game from you like that is heart-wrenching,” and I have no idea which great player he meant. Durant, I suppose, for his five points in the final 30 seconds of regulation after the Nuggets took a 111-106 lead.
The Thunder's James Harden called the game “unbelievable.” Westbrook termed it “epic.”
NBA record-keepers were too busy to give the game a proper description. They were busy telling us that it's the first time in NBA history a team produced a 50-point scorer, a 40-point scorer and a triple-double, all in the same game.
A bunch of other cool mileposts were reached, some involving names like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, speaking of superstar tandems.
“They were both on fire,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said of his duo. “Great performance by both of 'em.”
In the last six minutes of regulation, after Denver had taken a 97-90 lead, plus the five minutes of overtime, Durant made six of nine shots. Westbrook made six of eight.
Anything less, and the Thunder loses this game. The Nuggets, remade from the team that was remade last February, are working on the fly again, thanks to injuries to center Nene Hilario, forward Danilo Gallinari and sharp sub Rudy Fernandez. All were missing Sunday, Denver had lost nine of its previous 12 games and still the Nuggets looked like their blend of depth, speed and oddball lineups would spring the upset.
But Westbrook and Durant wouldn't let it happen.
This was a night when the rest of the Boomers, sans Ibaka, played poorly. James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison, none of them. They all stunk, offense and defense.
Didn't matter. Not with Durant and Westbrook playing like this.
Durant on Westbrook: “Russell carried us the whole time. We've been growing ever since he got here. We know he can score. He had it going.”
Westbrook on Durant: “He's a natural-born scorer. When the game's on the line, you gotta find him. The guy makes shots.”
Now, the Thunder can't rely on games like this every night from its two superstars, although don't sell them short. Don't look now, but Westbrook, often chided for being an out-of-control point guard, has shot at least 50 percent from the field seven of the last eight games. And Durant, despite a regular dose of long-range launches and driving trick shots, is shooting 51.6 percent from the field this season.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets press on, with a scrappy team trying to swim upstream. I'm pulling for Karl to be successful. It would be good for the NBA if Denver can show that you don't need superstars to win big.
But for now, it's good for Oklahoma City that the opposite seems to be true and most definitely was Sunday night.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.