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OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant scores 37 points, but Memphis tops Thunder

by Darnell Mayberry Published: January 14, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kevin Durant did what he said he needed to do.

He swallowed his pride, suppressed his ego and sacrificed the one thing it seems he was put on this earth to do.

Down three, with the ball and 20.2 seconds left to play, Durant, working from the top of the key, slithered his slender frame into the heart of the Memphis defense. Once there, he stopped, surveyed the floor and made a pivotal decision.

He passed.

His penetration had sucked Serge Ibaka's defender into the paint and left Ibaka all alone in the left corner for a potential game-tying 3-point attempt.

He missed.

And Memphis escaped, holding on for a 90-87 win over the Thunder on Tuesday night inside FedExForum.

It was the Thunder's third straight road loss and fifth defeat in the last eight, this one ultimately characterized mostly by the same ills as the previous failed attempts — role players not rewarding Durant's selflessness with necessary contributions offensively.

Despite the ending, Durant, who's spent much of the past five days dissecting ways he feels he could better help teammates, said he wouldn't change a thing.

“I trust him 100 percent,” Durant, who finished with a game-high 37 points, his eighth 30-plus-point effort in the past 10 games, said of Ibaka. “The shot looked good. It just hit the side rim and rimmed out.”

Zach Randolph split a pair of free throws at the other end to put Memphis ahead, 88-84, before Ibaka hit a never-before-seen stepback 3 to give the Thunder one last hope. But when the Thunder couldn't corral Mike Conley to deliver an intentional foul and allowed 3.3 precious seconds to tick off the clock, the game was all but over when Courtney Lee sank two foul shots to send the Thunder, out of timeouts, back down by three with 1.3 seconds remaining.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he, too, was OK with Durant's decision and the subsequent shot by Ibaka, who entered the game shooting 38 percent this season on 3-pointers from the left corner.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That's one thing I love about KD. He makes the right play. He could have forced a shot, but that wasn't the right play. Serge was wide open. He works on that every day, and he's made that shot for us. Like KD said during the game, what I said during the game, ‘It's a great look, Serge. If you get that shot again, be ready to step up and make it.'”

By no means did Ibaka's miss cost the Thunder the game.

But what it did was again illustrate the story of how Durant's teammates have struggled to offer assistance since point guard Russell Westbrook underwent a third surgery to his right knee on Dec. 27.

Oklahoma City went 5-for-21 from 3-point range, continuing a troubling trend that's plagued the Thunder for much of the season but has really reared its head in Westbrook's absence.

Over the past 10 games, the Thunder is now shooting 32.1 percent from long distance. For comparison's sake, that clip would rank the Thunder second-to-last, ahead of only Detroit at 31.2 percent.

The Thunder is 5-5 over that same span.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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