OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the Thunder nine down to the Nuggets inside of four minutes and facing a trip back to Denver for a Game 6, Royal Ivey and Nate Robinson looked at Kevin Durant and delivered a simple message.
Go take the game over. It's your time.
I guess you could say he did.
Durant scored 16 of his 41 in the fourth quarter, including the Thunder's last nine points to a first-round playoff series win in Oklahoma City, 100-97 over the Nuggets.
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It really felt like one of those nights where you watched an NBA superstar take another step. Being great in the regular season is a start. And Durant has been exactly that, winning back-to-back scoring titles. But legends are born in the postseason. Legends are born in the biggest moments.
Not to say Durant became one Wednesday night, but he certainly had a game for the ages.
The shot that got it all started was a deep pull-up 3 that dropped and pulled Oklahoma City within six with 3:23 left. After that point, Durant took things to another level.
"I just told myself ... I got to get us going," Durant said. "Russell and myself are the leaders of this team and he looked at me and said, 'This is what you do.' And I just said all right. And I just kept going."
By "kept going" Durant means to say, he completely, entirely, overwhelmingly took over the game, placed his young team on his back, and won the game.
There was a real change brewing inside Oklahoma City Arena with about four minutes left. After the Nuggets snatched Game 4 away from the Thunder in Denver, they were up nine and looking like the team that struck fear into the heart of every playoff team in the West the last month of the season. You could feel it. The Nuggets had confidence, momentum and were just a few minutes for putting a whole load of pressure on the Thunder.
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit, but there was no denying the Thunder were about to find themselves in a very difficult position. Still ahead three games to two, but now in Denver and looking at a Game 7 if they couldn't beat the Nuggets on their home floor. An anxious predicament for a young team trying to win its first playoff series.
"One thing that was going through my mind was I don't want to go back to Denver because it's going to be tough to win in there," Durant said. "I just don't want to go back. It was cold, it was raining, the fans said some not-so-nice words to us. But we just didn't want to go back so we fought through that and made some shots and got some stops."
Oh yeah, stops. As important as Durant's sensational takeover was, it would be no good unless the Thunder could slow down the rolling Nuggets. Denver finally appeared to rediscover some of that offensive mojo of moving the ball, finding shooters and getting to the rim.
|Kevin Durant scores 16 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter. (US Presswire)|
With 3:41 left, Kenyon Martin had a clean look at the rim with an opportunity to put Denver up 11. Denied by Ibaka. Then with 35 seconds left and the Thunder clinging to a one-point lead, Nene appeared to have an easy dunk. Denied by Ibaka.
"Serge did a great job protecting the rim all night," Durant said. "It just wasn't one guy. Everyone chipped in for tonight's win."
The Thunder came up just short in Game 4 against a similar situation. In Denver trailing by 10 with two minutes left, OKC got within two and in possession of the ball. But the Thunder couldn't finish it off. It was a depressing, deflating moment for the team as they had to spend a day answering a bunch of questions about Russell Westbrook's decision-making, chemistry and if they could hold together and close this out.
And Durant wasn't afraid to admit that it seemed like this one was almost out of reach either.
"Yeah, I did feel that way. We were down eight with three minutes and they couldn't miss a shot and we couldn't make any," he said. "So I was like, the odds of us winning this game are pretty tough. But we fought through that. We willed ourselves to victory."
Whatever they did, they closed. They finished. But as every Thunder player said postgame, it's just the start. It's one series.
Now it's on to the next step. This first one though, might be the biggest they take.