CLEVELAND — Kevin Durant came out pressing, evidently under the impression he could put away a crippled Cleveland squad with one shot.
He missed five of his first six attempts despite a clear matchup advantage and figured things would get worse before they got better.
“I had it in my mind I was going to start the game off 1-for-10,” Durant said.
But Durant avoided that fate when he settled down and settled in. He swished seven of his next eight field goals, and when he came alive he helped the Thunder overcome a slow start and avoid its second stunning loss to the Cavs this season.
A furious fourth-quarter rally by Cleveland is all that made the contest’s final score, a 102-95 decision, appear respectable. But the Thunder built a 24-point lead and never trailed in the second half.
Durant finished with a game-high 35 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. He went 12-for-21 from the floor, carrying the Thunder as point guard Russell Westbrook received a scheduled night off to rest on the first game of a back-to-back.
“My shot was a little flat, and I missed some easy ones,” Durant said of his start. “But I just try to play as hard as I can on defense and make winning basketball plays. If my shot is going to fall, it’s going to fall. If it’s not, just keep playing.”
The turning point came with 3:10 remaining in the opening period, when Durant corralled a missed 19-footer by Nick Collison and converted a layup. It pulled the Thunder, which missed 11 of its first 17 shots, within 21-16 and ignited a hot hand that the Cavs had trouble cooling off.
On this night, that was a near-impossible task.
Cleveland came into the game missing its best two players, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (biceps) and starting small forward Luol Deng (ankle). The Cavs also were without key reserve C.J. Miles because of an ankle injury. Deng and Miles would have been trusted with the bulk of the responsibility of slowing Durant. But with both sidelined, the Cavs started Alonzo Gee against Durant.
Less than two minutes into the game, Gee was saddled with two fouls, forcing him to the bench.
Cleveland had few other options for Durant. Cavs coach Mike Brown called on Matthew Dellavedova, a rookie shooting guard who checked in with a six-inch, 25-pound disadvantage.