OKLAHOMA CITY —
Kevin Durant wasn’t going to make it easy. With a chance at a third-straight NBA scoring title within his grasp, the Oklahoma City star wasn’t just going to hand his crown over without putting up a fight.
Going into his team’s final game of the season, Durant knew he had to put up a big enough number to hold off Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant, who still had one game remaining.
Durant dropped in 32 points Wednesday against Denver. However, the Thunder fell 106-101 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“If I don’t win the scoring title, MVP or whatever, it doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good year,” Durant said. “To think back on everything I’ve done this season, I’ve gotten better. I’ve improved in every area I wanted to improve in. I scored a few points. But I think as a defender and facilitator, I got better.”
As a team, there wasn’t much Oklahoma City was playing for against Denver. With the No. 2 seed wrapped up, all it could do was send a message to the Nuggets, a possible first-round opponent.
The game took on a physical nature down the stretch with hard fouls and intense defense. It’s something Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his team can expect more of in the postseason.
“Physical basketball is what we like,” Brooks said. “We love to play tough. We love to play physical and w have to do that. That’s what our team is about and that’s how you have to play in the playoffs. We don’t have to change. That’s what we’re about.”
With his team trailing 100-97, Durant came to the scorers table and asked if that was the correct score. He then knocked in a lay-up to get his team to within one point.
However, the Nuggets pushed the lead back to four points with 57 seconds left.
Russell Westbrook hit a pair of free throws and after getting a defensive stop. Derek Fisher had a chance to tie the contest. But his 3-pointer was off the mark and Denver held on for the win.
“All in all, it was a tough game,” Brooks said. “Tough loss. But one of the things I’ve talked to the team about is I’m proud of what they have done this year.”
Westbrook ended the night with 30 points, nine assists and four blocked shots. He also shot 50 percent from the field. It was a game he said he needed to break out of the month-long slump he had been in.
“I definitely needed that,” Westbrook said “It’s a new season now. I needed a game like that. But unfortunately, we weren’t able to come out with the win.”
The Thunder were once again without James Harden. Even though Brooks said he has been cleared to play by the NBA, he wanted to hold Harden out until the playoffs.
The Nuggets came into the night a half game ahead of idle Dallas. The Mavericks won the season series, so Denver needed the victory and another win tonight, plus a Dallas loss, to avoid Oklahoma City in the first round.
Oklahoma City will not know who its first round opponent is until late tonight. The players said they don’t car who they face. They are just ready to get it started.
“There is going to be nothing but physical basketball,” Westbrook said. “So that is something we have to look forward to. I think it’s all about us at this point. We just have to come out and play our game.”
Durant said he won’t watch to see if Bryant will get the 38 points he needs to beat Durant out of the scoring championship. But regardless of what happens, he likes what he and his team have accomplished in the regular season.
“I think this was probably my best year,” Durant said. “As an individual I was more efficient. I think this was probably one of my better years. Probably the best one. If I don’t win any awards, that’s cool with me. I just want to grow as player. Hopefully they will start to come later in my career.”