By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Utah coach Tyrone Corbin already knew Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was a special player. He didn’t need any first hand illustrations for him to realize just how dangerous the 6-10 forward has become.
Durant gave him one anyways when he scored 31 points to lead the Thunder to a 116-96 victory over the Jazz on Sunday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“The guy is tremendous to watch,” Corbin said. “If you are a fan of NBA basketball, he’s incredible to watch. I like the attitude that he plays with, with his talent. The guy just seems to really love to play the game.
“He’s one of the guys you would think even if he wasn’t playing in the NBA, he would be on some park somewhere playing in a basketball game and competing at a high level.”
After trailing by as much as 28 points, the Jazz (23-51) began to chip away at the Thunder’s lead. Spurred by Gordan Hayward, Alec Burks and Derrick Favors, the Jazz pulled within 12 points with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, Durant stopped the run by draining a 25-foot 3-pointer before the buzzer to push the lead to 92-77 heading into fourth. As Durant walked back to the bench, he gave Corbin a playful stare that made Corbin laugh.
“That’s who they are,” Corbin said. “They understand the moment. They tend to make big plays at big moments. Durant is certainly one of the best in the league at doing it.”
Durant’s last-second 3-pointer seemed to right the Thunder ship. Oklahoma City reserves closed out the fourth quarter and did not allow the Jazz to make a serious run.
“It was tough,” Utah’s Marvin WIlliams said. “It almost took the wind out of your sails to fight so hard and get back to that position and to cut it to 12. But he makes an amazing shot over a defender. It was a big shot.”
Durant finished 9-of-13 from the field and had nine assists. In his past two games, he’s 18-of-24 from field, 7-of-10 from 3-point range and a perfect 17-for-17 from the line. He also extended his scoring streak of at least 25 points to 38 games
“I’m just going out there and playing my game,” Durant said. “If it happens, cool. If it doesn’t, cool.”
Russell Westbrook posted 19 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Thunder (54-19). Caron Butler came off the bench to score 15 points. Serge Ibaka added 17 points and four blocked shots.
Enes Kanter paced the Jazz with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Richard Jefferson scored 17 points and Favors had 13 rebounds and eight points.
It didn’t take long for Oklahoma City to get rolling. It sprinted out to a 20-4 lead and the Jazz looked lost.
“You can’t just put your head down and you can’t all of a sudden start arguing with each other or questioning your game plan,” Jefferson said. “When you score four points, or whatever that was, it’s a combination of a lot of things. Just a tough situation.”
As Durant picked apart Utah’s defense with a variety of shots. He also opened up space for his teammates to get off uncontested shots.
Durant finished the first half with 18 points and four assists as Oklahoma City led 59-40.
But it was the team’s defense that set the tone that carried throughout the game.
“I feel like we need to start the game off more defensively and I thought we’ve done that the past two games,” Westbrook said. “We just have to continue to keep that going.”
Notes: The Oklahoma City Thunder took time out Saturday to make surprise visits to fans across the area. Players such as C Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant spent the day bringing gift cards to different shops across Oklahoma City in what the franchise is calling the Thunder Acts of Kindness. ... Reggie Jackson missed his second consecutive game with a mid-back sprain. He is day-to-day.
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