The moans that filled the Oklahoma City Arena midway through the first half Monday night might have marked the lowest moment in Kevin Durant's season-long shooting slump.
Standing all alone on the right wing, Durant caught a pass and fired a bomb that a sellout crowd of 18,203 just knew would splash through the net.
It barely drew iron.
For three and a half quarters against New Orleans, this was Durant's ruthless reality.
But with just less than six minutes remaining, the Oklahoma City Thunder's star saved a much-needed 95-89 home win over the Hornets. And he did it on the defensive end.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks assigned Durant to Hornets forward David West with 5:50 left to play. West had just spent the third quarter toying with the Thunder to the tune of 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He muscled his way through the bulkier Jeff Green, so there was no telling the type of damage West would inflict on Durant.
â€œI was even surprised,â€ Durant said of Brooks' switcheroo.
But Durant's defense changed the game.
With the Thunder trailing 81-77, Durant ignited a 14-0 run by hounding West into 2-for-8 shooting in the final period. One of West's buckets was a meaningless dunk with one second left on the game clock.
The Thunder took the lead for good at 83-81 on two Jeff Green free throws. But it was the string of defensive trips before that enabled the spurt. West started the streak by missing a baseline jumper. Durant then blocked West's next attempt and stayed close enough to contest and force a miss on the attempt after that. Russell Westbrook buried a pull-up jumper at the other end, and Durant then rejected an Emeka Okafor dunk before Westbrook tied it at 81-all on a pair of free throws.
â€œI just tried to put my hand up,â€ Durant said. â€œMy wingspan is one of the longest in the NBA, and I tried to use that to my advantage on the defensive end by getting blocks and steals.