Serge Ibaka sensed what everyone in the coliseum sensed. That magic dust that settles over Kevin Durant from time to time, that brief period when Durant can drop-kick a basket so long as he gets his hands on the ball, had indeed arrived.
Heck, Ibaka might have sensed it more than did Durant. The Thunder led by nine points late, a solid lead against any team besides Golden State. Alas, the Warriors indeed were the foes Friday night at Chesapeake Arena.
So heroics remained in demand. And Ibaka demanded that Durant come get the ball on the right wing.
Durant complied. He took a pass from Ibaka, stepped back for a deep 3-pointer on the right wing for his second deep swish in a span of 37 seconds. Thirty-eight seconds after that, Durant swished again from 25 feet on the right wing.
And the Thunder had all the cushion they needed on a historic night against the Warriors. Durant scored a career high 54 points as the Thunder beat Golden State 127-121.
“He's a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great,” said Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
The game started as a sharpshooting duel between teammates. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who put the gold in Golden State, seemed to be playing a solitary game of H-O-R-S-E in the first quarter.
But by game's end, there was no doubt who wore the crown. This was Durant's finest offensive game as a pro.
Durant made 19 of 28 shots and virtually matched the long-range bombs of Curry and Thompson. The Warrior backcourt duo each nailed two 3-pointers in the first seven minutes and each nailed three treys in the first quarter.
Curry and Thompson finished with a combined 63 points. Curry had 37, making six of 10 3-pointers; Thompson had 26 points, making six of nine deep balls.
But Durant finished five of eight on 3-pointers. His 19 field goals tied a career high. The only two times he's made more than 16 baskets in a game, he's gone 19 of 28 overall. Friday against Golden State and Feb. 2012 against Denver, when Durant scored 51 points in a 124-118 Thunder victory.
But this performance was better. That Denver team included Andre Iguodala, one of the NBA's few defenders capable of giving Durant a rough time, but Iguodala missed that game.
Now a Warrior, Iguodala played 29 1/2 minutes Friday night but was no match for Durant.
“The great players, you can play great defense and he can have numbers,” Jackson said. “It's just a question of making him work. He hit some tough shots, some incredible shots. Give him credit.”
Durant now is averaging a career high 30.6 points a game this season. He was asked to carry a heavier load when Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery just after Christmas, and Durant has responded. He's averaged 36.8 points the last five games.
What can a defense do when Durant gets in a zone like Friday night?
“Not much,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said. “Not much. You can watch and guard and hope that he misses. He was making some tough shots. They were trying to make him miss and he was making tough shots. Just like Curry.”
Curry is a wondrous talent himself but not the total offensive package that is Durant. Durant also scored on drives, on penetrating jumpers and on 11-of-13 foul shooting.
And that incredible 75-second span when Durant launched three arching 3-pointers that were on the mark and slew the Warriors. The Thunder lead went from 110-101 to 119-104, and not even a Curry/Thompson rally could have saved Golden State.
In the span of two games, the light has brightened on the Thunder. An epic defensive performance Thursday night in Houston (19 second-half points for the Rockets), followed by a reminder that Earth's greatest offensive basketball player carries the Thunder flag while Westbrook convalesces.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.