Durant's Fast Start Gets Thunder Rolling Early
DALLAS – It started with a drive to the basket on the game's first possession. Surprisingly, it was one of only four shots Kevin Durant would miss Thursday night.
Durant worked the Dallas Mavericks inside and outside, mixing up his 15 shots from seemingly all spots on the court to lead the Thunder to a 95-79 victory in Game 3. His 31 points led all scorers and, more important, set a tone early that helped the Thunder take a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven first-round series.
"It was good (for Kevin) to have a good start," Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. "He's earned that; he works as hard as anybody I've ever been around and you knew he was going to have a good shooting game sooner or later. He's diligent in his work; he's so consistent. It's incredible to see. Everyday he's the same. He brings in work, brings in effort, and he does the same things. … He gave us a good start."
Durant scored 15 points in the first quarter and had two assists. During a stretch of 8 minutes, 25 seconds he made three 3-point shots, a fade-away jumper, a one-foot jumper and two free throws without a miss as the Thunder jumped out to a 28-13 lead. He finished the night 11 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and had a team-high six assists – half of which came during a 16-5 Thunder run in the third quarter -- and two steals.
Afterwards, Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle was asked why Durant was so effective.
"Jumping over us and hitting shots," he said. "He's a great player; he's the best scorer on the planet. (Shawn) Marion did a phenomenal job for two games, and then tonight Durant picked his level up a little bit. … He was 11-for-15. That's a phenomenal shooting night in a game where they're spreading the ball around."
Durant entered the game having shot a combined 15-for-44 in the first two wins. While much of the media talked about his shooting, Durant remained confident his shots would begin to fall. "I had good looks," he would say, "they're just not going in."
So Durant did what he always does. He went to work, staying after practice the past two days to put up more shots.
His fast start led to the Thunder's fast start and helped mute the American Airlines Center crowd. He would add six points in the second quarter, two in the third and eight in the fourth.
"Kevin got hot, 15 points in the first quarter," guard James Harden said. "Just everything was moving and everybody was on the same page tonight. If we play like that, it's hard to beat us."
The Thunder is now one victory away from advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Game 4 is here Saturday night, and the Thunder will approach it the same way it has approached each game in this series and this season: It's one game.
"We know we haven't done anything yet," Durant said. "We played two close-out games last year and we know how tough that is."