MEMPHIS — Kevin Durant did it again.
The difference this time was just the magnitude of his magic.
Durant drilled a step-back jumper from the left wing over the outstretched arms of Rudy Gay with 35.4 seconds remaining Wednesday night to lift the Thunder to a 98-95 win over Memphis inside the FedExForum.
“I had to let it fly,” Durant said. “That was a prayer, buddy.”
He could have fooled us. It’d be much easier to believe Durant didn’t plan that high-arching, game-clincher if he hadn’t put the Grizzlies away in the same fashion last spring.
The reigning two-time scoring champion finished off Memphis in Game 4 from nearly the exact same spot. Instead of Gay, his defender was Shane Battier. Rather than a step-back jumper, Durant hit Battier with a shake-and-bake pull-up. And only 29.3 seconds were left in that triple-overtime thriller.
“Kevin’s really improved a lot in how he gets his points,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He’s thinking the game more, but that just comes with maturity.”
Durant scored nine of his game-high 32 points in the final period. He made all three of his shots from the field in the quarter, had two assists and iced the game with a pair of free throws with one second remaining.
The Thunder needed every bit, with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook mired in perhaps the worst performance of his career. Two nights after Durant, Westbrook and Harden combined for 77 of the Thunder’s points 104 points at Minnesota, Westbrook missed all 13 of his shot attempts and finished with four points, six assists and four turnovers.
Durant started just 1-of-5 from the field but picked up his play as the game went along; seemingly sensing his team needed him.
“I think I’m maturing as a player,” Durant said. “Last year, I would have gotten off to a slow start and let it affect me. But I just tried to keep my composure and believe in myself and know that I worked hard and the shots that I was missing were going to fall. I started off terrible. I thought I was going to have a really, really bad game after the first shot I took didn’t even touch the rim.”
Brooks was most pleased with the versatility Durant displayed, particularly his passing.