HOUSTON — Kevin Durant took a charging foul early in the second quarter, swiveled to a sitting position and proclaimed, “This is my city!”
Wonder if Magic Johnson said the same thing 33 years ago?
In a reversal of one of the most stirring games in NBA history, Durant became the world's tallest point guard. Not to mention hero of the most emotional Thunder game ever.
Durant was mostly magnificent Saturday night in a 104-101 playoff victory over the Rockets at the Toyota Center, and when the magnificence ran out, the clutch remained.
In the Thunder's first game ever without Russell Westbrook, Durant stood tall. He had 41 points, 14 rebounds and the go-ahead shot, a divine 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds left. And Durant did most of his damage playing point guard.
In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, rookie point guard Magic Johnson played a lot of center in the place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic scored 42 points to lead the Lakers to the championship.
Call this a Reverse Magic. Durant took over the point.
“Kevin has done a great job of being a playmaker all season long,” Scotty Brooks said. “He's done that the last couple of years. He's an amazing scorer. But he sets up a lot of guys to get easy buckets.”
Westbrook underwent knee surgery Saturday and will not return for these playoffs. No one knew what to expect out of the Thunder, which had never played a game without Westbrook.
Brooks admitted that his team was ripe with emotion.
“I sensed that,” Brooks said. “There's no way around it. It's been an emotional 48 hours. You can't plan for that. You don't plan for that. There's nothing you can read about and manage it better.”
The Thunder's emotions were evident early and late.
Early, the Boomers bombarded the Rockets with adrenaline. The Thunder roared to a 39-19 first-quarter lead and led by as many as 26 points in the second quarter.
Most of that came with Durant as the playmaker. When new starter Reggie Jackson picked up two fouls in the first four minutes, Derek Fisher replaced him, but Durant slid over to initiate the offense.
With spectacular results. The Thunder scored on its first five possessions with Durant at point guard and 13 of its first 15.
In the first half, Durant hit two walk-it-up and throw-it-up 3-pointers, and he also made two spectacular drives for dunks from the top of the circle. He was a nightmare for the Rockets to guard.
But the Thunder's offensive efficiency dried up as its emotional tank emptied, and the Rockets clawed back into the game.
Durant had 27 points in the first half but only three points in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Down the stretch, Durant returned to dominance, with 11 points in the final 8 1/2 minutes, and the Thunder won by one of the hairs in James Harden's beard.
“I knew I had to give it my all, no matter what,” Durant said. “Don't worry about missed shots or turnovers.”
How long can Durant carry this kind of load?
“However long they need me to do it,” Durant said. “I just gotta keep playing.”
And when this game was over, normally placid Nick Collison walked off the court with his hands raised, and Durant, who played all but 44 seconds of the game, found fellow yeoman Serge Ibaka for a hug and pat of the head, and the Thunder reveled in a victory that was historic and emotional.