Hobbled Durant leads OKC past Hawks
Kevin Durant was on the court for nearly 40 minutes. He actually improved on his NBA-best scoring average.
Not bad for a guy who wasn't supposed to play.
''I just tried not to think about it. Mind over matter,'' Durant said. ''This game is mental, so if you think about being injured, you'll go out and play like you're injured.''
Durant sprained his left ankle two nights earlier and wasn't cleared to play until an hour before the game, but it didn't seem to affect him at all. He came in averaging 28.4 points a game, so this was just business as usual.
''He showed no signs of being hurt,'' Atlanta's Joe Johnson said. ''I give him a lot of credit. He willed them to that victory, he and Westbrook. They are a great tandem.''
Westbrook made the biggest shot of all. After Marvin Williams' putback pulled the Hawks within 102-100, the man wearing zero took a pass from Durant, picked up a screen from Nick Collison and swished a wide-open jumper from behind the arc.
As he headed back down the court, Westbrook blew on both hands as though they were six-shooters and mimicked sticking them in his holster. He finished with 28 points.
''Russell made a big 3,'' Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. ''That's a shot we would live with. The only thing is we didn't contest it.''
Johnson led the Hawks with 24 and Kirk Hinrich added 21.
Durant wasn't expected to play after twisting his left ankle against Indiana. But he was able to take part in the morning shootaround, came out to do some additional shooting just before the game and declared himself ready to go.
He sure was.
Durant torched the Hawks for 12 points in the first quarter, then hit consecutive 3-pointers late in the second to complete an 18-point half that lifted the Thunder to a 56-51 lead heading to the break.
''My adrenaline was pumping a little bit and my teammates got me going, so I was able to make some shots a little bit,'' he said. ''I'm sure it's going to be tight and sore in the morning, but I'm just going to fight through it and get as much treatment as I can.''
Atlanta was coming off its biggest comeback win of the season, having wiped out a 19-point deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks fell behind 14-0 in that one, so they made a point to get off to a fast start against Oklahoma City.
Hinrich came out flying, hitting a 20-foot jumper right off the tip, then swishing a long 3 that gave the Hawks an 11-4 lead less than 3 minutes into the game. But Durant went to work, evening the score at 16 with a fadeaway jumper, and James Harden scored on a burst to the basket with the clock winding down to put the Thunder up 31-26 at the end of the quarter.
The Hawks trailed by as many as 13 in the final quarter before making a late run. When Williams grabbed the rebound off Hinrich's miss, banking it in to cut the deficit to a mere basket, the crowd of nearly 18,000 was on its feet imploring Atlanta to make one more defensive stand.
It didn't happen. Westbrook, who had jawed earlier in the quarter with Hinrich, finished off the Hawks by knocking down his only 3-pointer of the night with 1:11 remaining.
''That was a tough one,'' Johnson said. ''We just didn't get the stops when we needed them down the stretch.''
The Hawks played their second game in a row without forward Josh Smith, sidelined by a sprained right knee. He cheered on his team from the bench, wearing a suit and tie.
Smith's absence forced the Hawks to go deeper into their bench than normal. Etan Thomas made his first appearance since Jan. 22.
Drew said his team simply didn't match Oklahoma City's toughness, not a good sign with the Hawks in the middle of a difficult stretch against playoff-bound teams.
''We didn't get the loose balls. We didn't get on the floor,'' Drew said. ''That's playoff-caliber basketball out there. These teams are going to bring energy, they're going to bring intensity. We have to bring ours.''
NOTES: Oklahoma City swept the season series, having also defeated the Hawks 103-94 on New Year's Eve. ... Harden scored 17 for the Thunder off the bench. ... Al Horford had a double-double for Atlanta with 15 points and 12 rebounds. ... Thomas scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in a little over 7 minutes of playing time.