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Durant's fourth-quarter performance deals quick blow to LeBron, Heat



OKLAHOMA CITY -- There wasn't one play that defined the outcome for Kevin Durant, not a single moment that crystallized the fundamental question that would be posed and answered in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The question -- who's the best player on the floor? -- was not answered with one shot, or with a single episode of star power. It was answered again and again, with wave after wave of greatness from Durant.

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He unleashed his full arsenal on LeBron James and the Heat -- long-range, mid-range, above the rim -- and simply ran James ragged in the closing minutes of a 105-94 victory that gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat in the Finals.

A 1-0 lead on the judges' scorecards in this heavyweight fight. Star vs. star, the first blow delivered by Durant and no counterpunches landing from James.

"I'm not worried about, like I said, the one-on-one matchup," Durant said.

He must have been watching a different game than the rest of us.

Durant had 36 points, outscored James 17-7 in the fourth and hit the Heat with a flurry of offensive artistry that put his full capabilities on display. The turning point came with about nine minutes left, when the question demanded an answer and Durant delivered.

"He takes the challenge every night," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

The challenge was there to be taken with nine minutes left, with the Thunder leading by four, 78-74.

Durant made a driving one-hander, a dunk, a 3-pointer and a driving mini-hook -- with a rim-rattling jumper by Russell Westbrook mixed in -- and the Thunder led 89-83 with 5:49 to go. A jumper each by Durant and Westbrook made it a 10-point lead, 93-83 with 3 1-2 minutes left.

Durant had hit the Heat, hit them so hard and fast they hadn't seen it coming. A closer look at that seemingly modest 15-9 run -- with 11 points from Durant -- told the story of how Durant and the Thunder wore the Heat down. Miami's rotation shrank to only six players who logged all but 12:13 of the game, and it showed.

"We're going to have to have more guys in there to give me and D-Wade a rest," said James, who finished with 30 points.

Durant's dunk with 8:30 left came off Nick Collison's steal of a pass by James, and Durant simply beat James down the floor in transition. Beat him badly. Both Durant and James played nearly 46 minutes, but only one of them had his legs. That run-out dunk was the closest James came to guarding Durant during the Thunder's deciding run.

After Westbrook's jumper rattled home, there was Collison again -- the lunch-bucket grinder beating the Heat's two glamour guys, James and Wade, to tap out a long offensive rebound. Westbrook got it and fed Durant for a lightning-quick 3-pointer and an 87-81 lead.

"As we've played together longer, we've all kind of figured out our role and how we can help the team," Collison said. "... You can always play hard. You can always chase rebounds."

Unless you're James and Wade and you're exhausted.

With LeBron switching from Westbrook to Collison on a screen, the flurry continued with Durant taking Shane Battier to the basket for a driving hook shot. Then, Durant's greatness forced the Heat into a blown coverage. Wade was chasing Derek Fisher, and Battier was on Durant. On Fisher's screen-and-roll, both Wade and Battier chased Fisher toward the rim, leaving Durant wide open for that lethal 20-pointer and a 91-83 lead.

"He had a couple of jumpers that we didn't like, with nobody on him," LeBron said.

Not LeBron or anybody else.

"We'll need to make adjustments on that," said James, who needs to be chief among the adjustments. He needs to be on Durant at winning time in these games.

"This was the feel-out game," James said.

Another jumper by Westbrook made it a 10-point lead, 93-83, and it felt like a 100-point lead inside pulsating Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they wear blue and clap in unison like it's a college game.

You watch Durant thriving here, in this environment, and you understand why he likes it so much -- why he didn't have the same singular obsession to move to a glamour market and team up with more stars.

Why look for a star to team up with when you can guard him in the fourth quarter of a Finals game and score on everybody else?

Game 2 is Thursday night in Oklahoma City, where we will all be treated to more star power, more dueling role players and more brilliance from two of the game's greats at the height of their considerable powers.

Round 1 goes to Durant. Now, it's time for the counterpunch.

This is what we call fun.




 
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