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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

Durant Hits Game Winner To Lift Thunder Past Hawks

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When the Slim Reaper comes for you, there's no escape.  

The Atlanta Hawks learned the hard way on Monday night in Oklahoma City.  Kevin Durant pulled up from the right wing and nailed a running jumper with just 1.5 seconds remaining to lift the Thunder to a dramatic 111-109 win and sink the hearts of the visiting Hawks.    

Considering Atlanta was without 16-point-per-game-scorer Jeff Teague and center Al Horford, many expected a blowout at Chesapeake Arena on Monday night. But the remaining Hawks had other ideas, and let OKC know about ‘em early.  

The Hawks came out of the gates on fire, scoring 57 points on 55 percent shooting in the first half. 

Atlanta was hot, but the Thunder fanned the flames by leaving one Hawk open after another.  Atlanta nailed 8-13 (54.8 percent) from 3-point range in the half, and at least seven or eight of those attempts were wide open.  

Things started off slowly for the Thunder.  In fact, OKC found itself in a 12-5 hole with Kendrick Perkins scoring all five of its points.  

But then things got back to normal a little.  Durant woke up and caught fire, draining 7 of 10 from the floor in the first half to keep Oklahoma City in the game.  KD finished the half with 18 points including 3-4 from downtown.  

Not much changed in the third quarter.  OKC couldn't defend but neither could the Hawks, and Atlanta took an 87-79 lead into the game's final period. 

The Thunder cut the lead to four at 87-83 with a little more than 11 minutes to play, but back-to-back Durant errors led to two Hawk buckets.  Durant attempted a running floater that hit off the side of the backboard, which Atlanta turned into a layup. Then, KD tried to find Nick Collison on a pick-and-roll, but his pass was deflected and the Hawks turned that into two as well.  

Durant answered with a 3-ball on his next possession, which also got him past the 30-point mark for the 11th straight game. More on that later. 

With 6:39 to play, Durant hit an impossible-looking runner through Kyle Korver's contact. KD completed the 3-point play at the line, and OKC drew within 99-96.  But as they had all night, Atlanta answered right back.  Consecutive buckets by Paul Millsap and Shelvin Mack put the Hawks up 103-97 with 5:37 to play.  

Derek Fisher answered with a 3-ball followed by five straight from points Reggie Jackson, and the Thunder was within one at 105-104.  

Atlanta answered again, this time on a defensive mismatch. Former University of Virginia star Mike Scott got Fisher isolated in the paint, and the 6-foot-8 forward scored easily to put Atlanta back up by three.  

But after trailing the entire night, Durant finally completed the Thunder's comeback.  After hitting one of two free throws, KD streaked through the paint for a driving layup to tie the game at 107-107 with 2:11 to play.  

Then Durant did what he's done so many times before. With 25.5 second left, the Slim Reaper made his appearance.  KD isolated onto DeMarre Carroll, then pulled up and busted a 20-foot jumper in his face to put the Thunder up 109-107.  

Millsap tried to resist. His layup just seconds later tied the game at 109, but as you know, it didn't matter.    

Durant finished with 41 points, five assists and four boards.  With that performance, he became the 5th player in last 30 seasons with 30+ in 11 straight games (Michael Jordan, Shaq, Tracy McGrady and Kobe are the others).

"Coach just cleared it out for me and I had to make a play," Durant said.  "It was an emotional game. I was up and down the whole game, my emotions were everywhere so I had to just try and keep it together at the end of the game and come through for my team. And by the grace of God I was able to hit a few shots."

The NBA's leading scorer was the recipient of constant M-V-P! chants during his trips to the free throw line.  It was Durant's sixth 40-point game of the season, by far the most in the league. No one else has more than two.

"The run he's on is really impressive," Nick Collison said.  "There are very few people in the world with the ability to do what he's doing, and to combine all the other things you need to play at that level, mentally being able to get up for all these games, it takes a lot of effort.  He's playing great — the best I've ever seen him play."

Jackson chipped in with 18 points while Jeremy Lamb added 14 off the Thunder bench.  After scoring OKC's first five points, Perkins only scored one more the rest of the night and finished with six points and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes.  

Durant spoke afterward about just how difficult it was to overtake a pesky Hawks squad.  

"It seemd like every time we would go on a run, they'd do something," Durant said about Atlanta. "We couldn't get over that hump. Finally, late in that game, coach made a good adjustment, we stayed in front of the ball, we switched some things, and we got some stops.  We just wanted to get over that hump and I think we made a few plays on the defensive end to do that."

The Thunder's defense locked in down the stretch, holding the Hawks to just one field goal in the last 3:30.  

"I thought the first three and a half quarters we did not have the defensive intensity to consistently give ourselves a chance to make a stop," coach Scott Brooks explained.  "We were just trying to find five guys that were going to give us a chance to get stops.

Brooks cited Fisher's leadership as the reason for the intensity increase.

"I though Fish…it's truly amazing what he does," Brooks said proudly.  "He's one of our better defenders. He scraps, he dives on the floor. He doesn't give up ground. He inspires all the guys, the guys love what he does for our team.  I thought in the last six minutes we played the type of defense we've been playing all season."

Next up for the No. 1 team in the Western Conference is a trip to visit King James at his palace.  The Thunder (36-10) plays at Miami on Wednesday night in what will showcase the NBA's two premier players.    

Brooks praised Miami and said the Thunder will have to play a strong game to come away with a win.

"They're one of the best teams in the game," Brooks said. "They have three of the best players. They're well coached. They're the two-time defending champions. We don't have to play perfect basketball but we have to play with perfect effort.  We're obviously going to have to play better than we did tonight."

Tip time from Miami is set for 6 p.m. CT.

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