The newly appointed NBA commissioner was in town for the first time to cap the two-day celebration honoring Kevin Durant as the league’s Most Valuable Player.
His presence kick-started a party-type atmosphere, and as he strolled to center court and took control of the microphone his message was drowned out by the most deafening “M-V-P” chant heard this season.
But soon after Adam Silver presented the Maurice Podoloff trophy, Durant, in a much shorter acceptance speech, got right down to business.
“It’s time for you guys to be as loud as you can be tonight,” Durant told the sold out crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. “We really need to win this game.”
In what came as close to a must-win situation as you can get short of an elimination game, Durant delivered.
With a game-high 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, Durant helped the Thunder punch a 112-101 victory in Game 2 of its Western Conference semifinal against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
The win evened the best-of-7 series at one game apiece as the matchup moves to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. Had the Thunder dropped Wednesday’s contest, it would have forced OKC to win four of five games, three of them coming at Staples Center, to advance.
With the way Durant set the tone, though, he ensured his team wouldn’t face that scenario.
On his first shot attempt, Durant splashed in a 3-pointer off a feed from Russell Westbrook just 40 seconds into the game. Forty-two seconds after that, Durant drilled a step-back jumper over Clippers forward Matt Barnes. Durant went on to make six of his first seven shots before finishing with 17 first-quarter points.
His hot start was a result of his ability to hit all sorts of shots. He dumped in driving layups, fadeaways and scores in transition.
Durant’s second 3-pointer of the first period, also off a dish from Westbrook, capped an 11-0 run and put the Thunder ahead, 25-18. That lead ballooned to as many as 11 inside the final minute of the opening quarter.
By halftime, Durant sat on 21 points despite not taking his first field goal in the second period until 1:54 remained in the half.
Durant was just as effective in the second half, scoring 11 points with eight rebounds and six assists. He finished one assist shy of joining Westbrook with a triple-double and making the Thunder’s dynamic duo the only pair of teammates in NBA history to register triple-doubles in the same playoff game.
Westbrook was sensational, scoring 31 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists and showing why Durant a day earlier called him an MVP-caliber talent. He controlled the pace throughout, exhibiting an extraordinary floor game and establishing himself as a troublesome all-around threat. He put constant pressure on the Clippers defense with relentless penetration, pinpoint passes and some phenomenal rebounds and steals.
The explosiveness of both Durant and Westbrook, coupled with a few offensive contributions from unlikely sources Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins (combined 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting), made the Thunder too much for the Clippers.
Oklahoma City shot 50.6 percent and, unlike in Game 1, exhibited a much better defensive effort to stave off what would have been a surprising two-game sweep in Oklahoma City.
J.J. Redick led the Clippers with 18 points, but he scored only two points in the second half. Chris Paul overcame first-quarter foul trouble that limited him to 5 minutes, 19 seconds in the period to finish with 17 points, five rebounds and 11 assists. Blake Griffin was held in check for the second straight game and finished with 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
Game 3 is Friday night.