By Ryan Costello
For three quarters, it seemed like Kevin Durant would lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a runaway win over the Golden State Warriors in his return the lineup Sunday night at Oklahoma City Arena.
But after entering the fourth quarter with a 90-70 lead, the Thunder lost containment on Golden State, and the Warriors answered, shooting 52 percent in the period and closing to within just three points with 23 seconds remaining.
Their final gasp fell just short, however, as the Thunder had just enough to survive with a 114-109 win.
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“We could have been down 20 points on the road and packed it in, but these guys made it a manageable game with about a minute, two minutes to go in the game,” a worn out Warriors head coach Keith Smart said.
The Warriors’ push was powered by their two greatest scoring threats in guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. Curry earned game honors with 39 points on 14 of 20 shooting and added six assists, and Ellis scored 29.
“We knew going into the game this was a team who had two great scorers. Not good scorers, great scorers,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of the Warriors’ high-scoring duo.
The Thunder surrendered eight of their season-high 18 offensive rebounds nearly disastrous fourth quarter, allowing the Warriors to attempt 27 shots from the field and 10 from the free throw line.
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Oklahoma City built its lead by scoring in transition, scoring 24 points on 17 Golden State turnovers, and held it with a masterful performance from the free throw line. The Thunder hit its first 29 freebies, 20 of them in the third quarter en route to converting 37 of 40 attempts from charity for the game.
“Well, we’re a good free throw shooting team, there’s no doubt,” Brooks said. “We want to continue to have that as part of our game: attack the basket, attack the paint, and draw fouls and get opportunities to get to the free throw line.”
Durant scored 11 of his 28 points on free throws, and missed only one from the line.
“Guys like points, and those are the easiest points you can get, so that’s the logic you have to have,” Durant explained.
Durant led five Thunder players in double digits and secured seven rebounds in his first game since missing a pair of games with a knee injury.
“It felt really good,” Durant said of returning to the floor. “I was excited last night when they told me I could play. I just wanted to come in and contribute to my team, and I think I did a good job of that tonight.”
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook scored 19 points to go with a game-high 13 assists, Serge Ibaka also scored 19 and snatched eight rebounds, Jeff Green added 17 points and eight rebounds, and James Harden scored 12.
The Thunder’s next tilt will be Monday night against Chicago, who the Thunder toppled in their season opener 106-95 in Oklahoma City.