Kevin Durant trailed in transition and caught a pass from Kendrick Perkins, who was desperate for an outlet after picking up his dribble.
Durant stood in the lane and turned down what would have been a short and simple jump shot. The NBA’s leading scorer instead sent a pass to Russell Westbrook in the left corner. With the dish came a succinct set of instructions.
“Shoot it!” Durant barked.
Westbrook did and drained it.
Durant immediately hit Westbrook with a celebratory slap on the chest before unleashing a roar. Westbrook just smiled.
It was Durant’s 10th assist, earning him his third career triple-double, and continuing the relentless two-man game that overpowered New Orleans in the Thunder’s 119-74 victory on Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant did the passing, Westbrook the shooting and the shorthanded Hornets, playing without their best two players, were powerless to stop either.
The end result was a 45-point thrashing that tied the Thunder’s largest margin of victory this season. Oklahoma City also defeated Charlotte by that same differential on Nov. 26.
Westbrook scored a game-high 29 points in only 26 minutes, and Durant scored 18 points with 11 rebounds and 10 assists in just 27 minutes. Serge Ibaka added 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, and Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson chipped in 14 points apiece off the bench.
The Thunder never trailed.
“We have to put things in perspective. Their two best players did not play tonight, and (New Orleans) played (Tuesday) night,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But other than that, I thought our effort was good for 48 minutes.”
The Hornets were without Eric Gordon and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, two of its four top scorers and its leading rebounder, and came in on the second night of a back-to-back. The Hornets had also dropped 12 of their past 19 games entering Wednesday’s contest and had been outscored by 13.3 points on average in the three previous losses to the Thunder.
But none of those factors diminish the dominance displayed by the Thunder’s All-Star duo.
Westbrook keyed a first-half offensive eruption, knifing his way into the teeth of the Hornets’ defense for acrobatic layups and pull-up jump shots. He scored 18 of his points in the opening period, making five of eight shots to power the Thunder to a 30-21 lead.
Durant, meanwhile, had as many assists (four) as shot attempts late in the first half, as he deferred time and again to allow teammates to get open shots.
Durant’s final assist was part of a 25-7 run the Thunder used to start the third period and turn a 17-point halftime lead into a 33-point game with 5:08 remaining in the period.
“KD has the potential to get a triple-double many nights,” Brooks said. “He handles the ball a lot, he plays a lot of minutes and he demands a lot of attention. So a lot of guys are going to be open because he has to be guarded by sometimes more than one (defender). But he’s a good playmaker. He’s really improved in that area all season, but I like it when he’s well-rounded.”